Time Under Tension

In the lifting world, well-known strength and conditioning researchers Charles Poliquin and Ian King popularized the concept of increasing time under tension during reps to increase the demand and build strength.  Simply put, the recommendation was to increase the time it took to do the eccentric (or lowering) part of an exercise, pause 1-2 seconds at the transition, and potentially lengthen the concentric (or contracting phase) of the movement.

The theory is that this will build more strength and hypertrophy (increased muscle mass) as you break down the muscle with high levels of fatigue.  And, it’s painful

And while working through some pain can be beneficial to help strengthen the body, it certainly isn’t optimal when we want to stick with a regular workout routine.

 Changing the tempo of lifts is a great way to shake up any workout, and can certainly benefit those who want a higher metabolic demand (higher calorie burn), or for those who have limitations with being able to produce speed during a rep (like those recovering from an injury).

However, if you aren’t quite as into the painful outcomes of lifting slowly and maxing out your time under tension, you can benefit from what is called Escalating Density Training (EDT).

Escalating Density Training provides a stimulus to create a high metabolic demand, it will help build strength AND hypertrophy.  

The creator of this type of training, Charles Staley, explains this workout here:

“EDT is focused around the performance of 15-minute timeframes (called PR Zones) where the trainee performs two opposing exercises back to back. The standard EDT protocol involves starting the PR Zone by performing sets of 5 with a 10RM load, and then gradually reducing the reps per set to account for accumulating fatigue.”

To complete your own EDT workout, here are some ideas:

-Set a timer for 10 minutes (you can increase to 15 minutes after you get accustomed to this type of training).

Complete 5 reps of any of the following pairings (but only 1 muscle pairing at a time):


-Front Squat/Dips

-Bentover Rows/close grip bench press

Choose a weight that you can only lift about 10 times without losing perfect form.  As you fatigue during the 10 minutes, take more rest or reduce the reps you do in each set- but the goal is to get as many reps as possible in 10 minutes!  Record your total reps, and try to beat yourself the next time!

 Even more importantly, is to parallel the idea of time under tension to our every day lives.  

The wise Bob Marley says, “Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you: you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for”.  

And, truth is, most of the things we dedicate ourselves to doing in life will be hard.  They will stretch us and make us better.  What would make you feel so good, proud, and accomplished that it is worth putting a little time under tension toward now??

You cannot back away from your goals simply because it is hard.  Press in, and feel the burn- your life will be refined by the fire.