Pow! I see it all the time; tough guys in the gym blasting weights that are far too heavy for them.
They must think that what they are doing is effective for building muscle, or maybe they think they look macho.
Anyone can ‘swing’ weights.
Certainly anyone can drop them too.
Using gravity, momentum and poor form (shorter levers, compensation) to your ‘advantage’.
The worst exercise I see people doing is the reverse fly… Actually maybe its the bicep ‘curl’. Or maybe it’s the side lateral raise!
Are you guilty of grabbing the heavy weights but needing to dip your head, bend your elbows, gain speed and momentum and generally do the exercise fast (in the case of the reverse fly)?
Or maybe you do bicep curls, kick your hip to get the weight moving, grimace and grunt with a twist and shoulder elevation and again, let gravity do the work on the decent. Possibly dropping the dumbbells for added effect? Tut tut.
This is wrong because it is not effective, and as far as I know about being cool, its not that either.
So, What Is The Secret?
Time Under Tension
Seriously, today I want to talk about TUT.
Time under tension (TUT) which is an effective variable that can help you overcome plateaus, build lean toned muscle and have an effective workout.
Only thing is, you’ll have to keep the weights within your ability so you can maintain proper technique.
And unfortunately, in the case of the reverse flyes this means using quite light weights, because the move recruits fairly small muscles, and uses long levers if done properly.
Exercises such as reverse flyes and side lateral raises recruit fairly small muscles, and use long levers if done properly.
Just so you know, what I am about to talk about can be applied to any exercise, not just reverse flyes, and I recommend using full body compound exercises.
Control Your Moves
In order to keep progressing you may well be aware of the FITT principle, and adjusting the elements of training to keep the body stimulated. Mix your resistance exercises, variations in rep ranges and sets or volume can keep things interesting.
However within a single repetition of an exercise for example a deadlift, the outcome can vary significantly.
A single rep of a set of say, 10 reps (a hypertrophy phase would see between 6 to 12 reps being performed) could have a different outcome depending on how the repetition is performed.
Cast your mind back to the example above of the macho fellow who is swinging weights, performing the exercise with poor form, and using gravity to his advantage.
Each individual repetition of any exercise he performs may well have limited, if any training stimulus on the muscles.
Compare this to a client of mine, who is meticulous about her technique – I won’t let her be sloppy. She selects weights that are challenging but manageable and she is able to maintain perfect technique for the exercise.
If she feels her form slipping, say at rep 8 out of a targeted 10 repetitions then she stops, logs her achievement and builds on it in a future session. She performs her move with consideration, control and at the end of the day she maximises the training stimulus of each repetition.
A Repetition of Four Parts
Without wanting to patronise you, I suggest that the average exerciser considers an exercise in two parts. The push/pull, and the release. And I will go further, to say that in my experience I have observed that most people push/pull fast, and immediately release letting gravity do the work, and maybe a triumphant ‘clang’ of weights as they collide before the next rep. This I find most irritating.
I want you to now consider any exercise in not two but in four phases. Consider a pressup or bench press phases:
1. Push the weight or floor away from you. You can do this in control over 1to2 seconds, explosively as in a plyometric move or very slowly indeed taking 3-4 seconds to fully extend the elbow.
2. End range. You can either pause at full extent of the exercise or return to your start position with no pause.
3. On the return phase you can allow gravity to help you descend either in or out of control, you can control the descent taking 1-4 seconds or even longer as with the push phase.
4. The final phase once you reach the start position gives you an option of either going straight back into the next rep, or maintaining the position for a set period.
In the case of a power exercise such as the plyometric pushup you could also use this end-point to squeeze out a little more power by using the myotatic or ‘stretch’ reflex. In this case there is literally no pause and you use your muscles like a tight elastic bands resulting in explosive push phase (for another article).
In a nutshell, you can change the time taken at each phase and therefore the time under tension, or TUT can be manipulated. This can be particularly important in the case of the eccentric phase where muscle lengthens as it contracts (stage 3 above).
Many suggest that this eccentric phase of muscle contraction is crucial in hypertrophy, which is essential not only for building lean muscle, but also for effective weight loss since it raises your metabolism, making you effective at fat burning at rest due to your increased BMR.
Next Steps To Build Muscle
Firstly, leave your ego at home, and don’t be afraid to lift weights under your control. If that means small weights initially, then so be it.
I also suggest focusing on short workouts that are composed mainly of compound exercises. Forget about Isolation exercises for now.
Next, plan your rep-range, load and TUT. Hypertrophy workouts should be between 6 to 12 reps, and the result you achieve with this may be functional sarcomere hypertrophy, or less functional bulk and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy depending on volume and rep ranges.
Obviously periodise your rep ranges. You may dip out of hypertrophy into strength and power too. When planning your time under tension consider the 4 phases of the move. You could plan it like this:
|Exercise||Eccentric||End range||Concentric||End range||Load||Reps||Set 1||Set 2||Set 3||Set 4|
So the above is a press-up, 1 second push, no pause, 4 second descent and a 4 second static brace. Repeat x12, 3-4 sets. Alternatively if you are confident with the four phases you can just have 1 column as:
|Exercise||TUT||Load||Reps||Set 1||Set 2||Set 3||Set 4|
- If you wanted explosive phase just use an x.
- BW is body weight.
So, that’s it for today, I hope it was useful. As usual if you want to ask questions please do ask on the post below, and if you have a friend who would benefit from this information please do share and let them know.
Happy training, Nico.