October 11, 2015
By Jared Jones
A number of recent studies have demonstrated that prolonged “time under tension” contributes greatly to the development of muscle - as much, or more so - than the use of heavy weights for lower reps (less time under tension). Further, a number of “muscle growth” experts - including Brad Schoenfeld and Steve Holman (X-Rep.com) - have written extensively about this. In fact, it was Steve Holman who explained this concept to me, a couple of years ago. Before then, I had been keeping my reps relatively low, and emphasizing heavier weights - and getting a compromised reward for my efforts. Now I do reps as high as 50 per set (not necessarily all with the same weight), and I’m getting spectacular results.
In a recent article in FLEX Magazine, entitled “The Pro’s Secrets to Getting Huge”, a number of the top guys in the sport reported their “secrets”. These include “high reps”, “super slow reps”, “shorter range of motion” (continuous tension), “drop sets”, “static holds” (isometric), and “isolation”. All of these are ways to increase the burn in a target muscle, during an exercise. Clearly, going for the burn is a good strategy, if your goal is increased muscle size. This concept is not necessarily new, even though the recent scientific studies are.
During the 1980s, many of the bodybuilding stars (Arnold, Zane, Ferrigno, etc.) were quoted in the magazines as using a variety of “Weider Principles”. These included “Super Sets”, “Pre-Exhaust”, “Break-downs”, “Forced Reps” and “Rest-Pause”. All of these, except the last one, were clearly designed to produce MORE fatigue in a target muscle, during a given set. The last one, “Rest-Pause”, does the opposite - it reduces fatigue (by providing a momentary rest for the target muscle, between reps). This seemed odd to me at the time. “How could producing more fatigue, and less fatigue - both - build muscle?”, I wondered.
The fact is, muscle burn (“time under tension” / TUT) is a balancing act. The goal is to produce prolonged fatigue in a target muscle, for at least 40 seconds per set. Longer is better, generally speaking. So the trick is to manipulate the burn - sometimes using techniques that increase the fatigue, and other times using techniques that mitigate the fatigue - for the sake of extending the duration of a set.
Learn your history first.