When it comes to weight training there are many different approaches to all of the different aspects involved. It is usually advised to vary parts of your weight training to fully utilize all of the methods of hypertrophy and strength gain. For example you will see people use different rep ranges, heavy weights, light weights, high volume workouts, low volume workouts, compound exercises and isolation exercises, as well as many more specific training methods.
In the time I have been training I have come across many alternative ways of doing sets, exercises or even full workouts. Things like Dorian Yates’ high intensity low volume training, Hany Rambod’s FST-7 system and many others. I have tried most of these styles of training and have always enjoyed the different types of contractions, fatigues and pumps that you can get from them. I have also seen great gains in strength and size whilst using them.
There is actually a theory that I never really looked into too much until quite recently, and that is that the muscle time under tension is key to hypertrophy and muscle gain. Time under tension basically just means the amount of time that the resistance is held using the muscle. So if you are doing a set of 20 reps the TUT would be far larger than on a set of one rep max. The amount of TUT that gives the greatest muscle gains is debated strongly and I have heard anything from 15 seconds to 1 minute. It basically just comes down to how many reps you perform and how fast you perform each rep. for example if we take the perfect TUT to be 30 seconds you could perform 15 reps per set if the reps were performed at the speed of one second up, 1 second down. Alternatively you could use the same TUT but perform 7 reps at half the speed, so take 2 seconds for the concentric and the eccentric part of the rep. The theory is a valid one but I never really used it in the past. If I was using a lighter weight and performing high reps I would generally do them quite quickly as the weight was easy to move. If I was using a heavy weight for less reps I would generally do them slower to control the heavy weight, so in a way I was sticking to the principle of TUT without even realizing.
Recently though I have been looking at ways to take the target muscles of my workouts past the point of fatigue. I am always searching for new effective training methods to include in my training. It was then that I thought about using TUT in a different way. I started using what I call tension training as part of my workouts and the gains I have got from it have been amazing.
The theory behind my tension training is to use all 3 types of muscle contractions, use both types of muscle fibres, go past the point of fatigue and get a massive muscle pump to stretch the fascia. All of this done in one set. The way I do this is to combine a drop set with a set TUT. I will explain further.
How to perform a set of Tension training. I will use the example of a chest press.
The first thing you need to think about is the range of motion. You want the part of the rep where maximum tension is on the target muscle. On machine chest press it is the part of the rep from the point of maximum stretch to about half way up the rep. after this point the triceps start to work and take it off the chest a bit. So on every rep we will only use this rep range.
You will start on a heavy weight that you will only get about 8-10 reps with. From there you will drop the weight by 10-20% every time you hit the point of maximum fatigue.
Now for the set:
The TUT is 2 minutes so use a clock or stop watch. Start the time from your first rep.
Start repping your maximum weight with the rep range you have chosen, when you cant do any more reps you have to hold the weight at the top of that rep range for as long as you can, when you cant hold it there anymore let it come down to the point of maximum stretch and hold there for as long as you can.
When you cant hold the weight any longer and the muscle is burning you must put it down, as quickly as possible drop the weight and repeat. Keep repeating with no rest at all for the full 2 minutes.
I guarantee you wont have felt a burn like this.
So that is the way to perform a set of tension training. The reason I use 2 minutes is really a personal choice. I initially started off with 1 minute but in that time I only did one drop and felt that I had more to give so wasn’t really going past the point of fatigue. I also went up to 5 minutes on one occasion but It was just using the aerobic energy system too much and the reps were too light at the end of it so I didn’t see the benefit. Trial and error led me to my perfect time of 2 minutes per set.
This method of performing a set is a training tool and it is not designed to take up a full workout. You cant do it on every type of exercise. For example you couldn’t really do it on deadlift as it would take too long to strip the weights off etc. its great on isolation exercises and especially ones with a stack where you can change the weight easily. Pec deck is a great one for example. You can do it with dumbbells but be careful of injury due to the fatigue caused. Make sure you use a spotter.
So give it a try. Next time you are doing a workout and you really want to blast your target muscles try doing 2 or 3 sets of this on one of the exercises. I guarantee you a massive pump and a fatigue like you wont have felt in a while.