If you take a look at Henry Cavill, the star from “Superman” you’ll probably think that his workouts are incredibly intense. However it seems that the physique he has built is a product of the “time under tension” principle, at least those are his words.
Time under tension is one of the most commonly discussed concepts in the science of hypertrophy and bodybuilding, and yet it remains poorly understood. Essentially, it refers to the amount of time that a muscle or a group of muscles is under stress when training (performing a set).
The principle says that you don’t necessarily need to put up your heaviest possible weights. Instead, you should use light(er) weights and maintain maximum tension on a muscle while performing a set. In plain words you should concentrate on the muscle you are working, slow down the tempo and do controlled movements with full range of motion instead of just moving a weight up and down.
Writing on Instagram, Henry praises lifting with lighter weights:
“It shows that it doesn’t take huge weights everyday to achieve results. I was doing everything I could in a busy busy schedule to try and get something in, whenever I could.
“During this period I learned that it’s not the weight that matters, it’s the workout. So if you’re shy about going to the gym because there is always someone next to you using mahoosive weights, don’t be. You do your weights, just make every workout count. You might end up looking better than the fella or lady next to you that’s using those heavy weights.”
View this post on Instagram
Having a little flashback to my days in Budapest on The Witcher and found this photo. I like it because it shows that it doesn't take huge weights everyday to achieve results. I was doing everything I could in a busy busy schedule to try and get something in, whenever I could. During this period I learned that it's not the weight that matters, it's the workout. So if you're shy about going to the gym because there is always someone next to you using mahoosive weights, don't be. You do your weights, just make every workout count. You might end up looking better than the fella or lady next to you that's using those heavy weights. I also wanted to give a massive shout-out to Adam at Flex Gym. Adam went out of his way to help make sure I could get some training in, no matter the time of day or night, he'd open the gym so I could throw some weights (big or little!) around. Thank you my friend. I hope to see you soon! @FlexGymBudapest #YouDoYou #GymStuff
The best exercises for “time under tension”
Almost any exercise can be optimized and used to keep your muscles under constant tension, being that a compound exercise like the squat or an isolation exercise like the dumbbell curl. Like we mentioned before, It’s the execution of the exercise that is really important.
The alternating dumbbell curl that Henry was doing, for example, is an excellent exercise for trying this principle. Here a few other great examples.
As Dr. Brad Schoenfeld points out, muscle is built in three main ways: muscular tension, muscle damage and metabolic stress.
Lifting lighter weights is a good plan if you’re looking to maximize muscle tension, as Cavill is here. Tension exerted on muscles during resistance exercise is generally considered the most important factor in muscle development according to Schoenfeld.
“Up to a certain point, greater muscle tension leads to a greater anabolic stimulus – a classic case of adaptation”.
“This is why bodybuilders generally display superior muscle growth compared with powerlifters even though bodybuilders routinely train with lighter weights.”