Time under tension (TUT) is touted as magical by a lot of bro-scientists on the Gram. Usually, they are trying to sound smarter than they are.
Using cool numbers like “2-1-2” makes even the most Photoshopped internet expert sound like the love child of Dorian Yates and Eric Cressey.
The fact of the matter is, it could be their baby, but only after said baby was dropped on their noggin. Why am I so critical of TUT? Not because I don’t think it has its place, because it certainly does.
I am playa-hatin’ on bros and TUT because it is overplayed. If you train correctly, TUT takes care of itself.
Before you grab the pitchforks and torches, hear me out. I have a lot to say, and might even make some more jokes to keep your attention.
The numbers in the opening paragraph intended to grab your attention are simply the cadence of the lift.
- “2” is the Negative portion of the lift, or bringing the bar to your chest on the bench press. It takes “2” seconds to bring the bar down.
- “1” is the amount of time you rest the bar on your chest. You rest for “1” second.
- “2” is the Positive portion of the lift, or pushing the bar up on a bench press. It takes “2” seconds to raise the bar.
In a perfect world, your partner would count as you lift. In a not-so-perfect world, you count in your head.
In all of the training videos we have seen of Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, or even natural bodybuilders like Kurt Weidner, do you see anybody counting?
HECK NO! And why Not?
It would make training boring as all get out and about as exciting about finding out your blind date is Joan Rivers. It is the opposite of “wood-inducing.”
Imagine getting ready for a max set of deadlifts and somebody counting your rep cadence. I would throw the weight at that bastard. This leads to reason one why TUT is BS:
#1 - You Can't Go Intense
It’s hard enough getting “up” to perform a max set or to be with the girl who was a “2 out of 10” at 2 AM at the club. Imagine doing this with a human stopwatch grunting out a cadence?
Intensity is a huge variable in making gains! Why is this?
The next reason time under tension is BS:
#2 - Progressive Overload is the Main Determinant of Muscle Gains
You heard me. No, the flavor of your pre-workout is not the main determinant in muscle gains, nor is the tightness of your new Tigerfitness Joggers. It isn’t even the new Justin Bieber haircut you’re sporting.
It is the practice of increasing load, reps, volume or other variables over time to challenge you muscle to force them to adapt to new stimulus, or progressive overload.
But won’t more time under tension lead to more gains? Science says heck no. In fact, science says normal rep speed trumps super-slow rep speed. 
Does this mean I am advocating super-fast, out of control rep speed? Nope, quite the opposite. Time under tension is not an issue IF you abide by some basic lifting principles that will ensure you make gains, control the rep to avoid injury and avoid developing a fear of math.
Using TUT Without Being an Annoying Idiot
#1 - Control the Rep
Control the weight on the negative (eccentric) portion of the lift. Not too slow, not too fast, but controlled where you aren’t dropping the weight on your chest at the bottom of a bench press.
Pause momentarily and then explode up on the positive (concentric) portion of the lift. Explode doesn’t mean just lose control and blast off. It means that you tense all of the muscles, maintain form and MOVE that weight.
Here is a good bench press demonstration.
#2 - Increase load/intensity (weight), frequency and volume over time
This forces the body to adapt by building more muscle. If you do one or more of these options, you will make gains over time.
#3 - Use compound lifts with controlled form
As we discussed earlier, control the movement. On a squat, come down controlled and then explode up.
While isolation movements have their place, compound movements hit more muscles. They use more overall power and force, and allow you to better monitor and gauge your, wait for it, progressive overload.
Reminder – Progressive overload is the most important component of gains!
So rather than counting rep speed, focus on quality reps and the basic principles of making gains – and that starts with progressive overload and includes a well-designed program. For a great program see my 12-week functional trainer here.
Gains also need a good diet.
Put down the stopwatch and lift up them weights!