Why do we work to the clock?
When you train with me, you’ll come to notice that a large component of your resistance training will involve sets to time rather than a numbered rep range. The stimulus will vary, whether it be bodyweight exercises, training with resistance bands, traditional weights and kettlebells or deadballs and ropes but the goal will be the same – meaningful gains in lean muscle tissue, strength and function. Which in turn will reduce your subcutaneous and intramuscular body fat stores and therefore improve your composition.
So, why track the time and not the reps? The consensus is 30-60 seconds of time under tension per set is optimal for an increase in muscle fibre size (also known as hypertrophy). Time under tension refers to only the time that your muscles remain under load and not the total time of the set. I will use a bicep curl as an example –
During a bicep curl there are 3 phases.
- Down (Eccentric)
- Rest at the bottom
- Up (Concentric)
Lets take a look at the practical implementation of it –
If you just followed your instincts, you would do a fast 1. a slow 2. and fast 3. You could easily knock out 12 reps with only 12 seconds of time under tension (TUT).
If you were to attempt a 1-0-1 timing (1 seconds down, 0 seconds at the bottom and 1 second up) for 12 reps on that exercise you would only have TUT of 24 seconds. Not enough time!! But still surprisingly slow and disciplined when you try it.
If you were super disciplined and then attempted a 2-0-2 timing for 12 reps you would have TUT of 48 seconds. Perfect time under tension for gains! However, actually adhering to strict 2-0-2 is very difficult and rarely adhered to by even the most diligent lifters. They might claim they do a 2-0-2 but a stopwatch would quickly show how far they are from it.
So what’s the answer? We lift for sets of an overall set time such as 45 or 60 seconds and I keep on you preventing any unnecessary pauses and rests! We don’t set an impossibly slow tempo and I keep it close to a slightly faster than 1-0-1 but keep the zero at a zero 99% of the time and voila… TUT above 40 seconds every set!!!
Note – You will sacrifice maximal load due the higher rep range so your strength gains will be slower and this is the reason we don’t exclusively train under this protocol. However, routinely exceeding 30 seconds of TUT during a large proportion of your sets and sessions will lead to meaningful gains of lean muscle tissue and positively improved body composition.