Turning up the intensity with more time under tension (MTUT)
MTUT, or More Time Under Tension seems to be all the rage at the moment. Coming from Dennis James, an iconic bodybuilder and current top coach, this is said to be the secret to success in building Big Ramy’s leviathan-like proportions.
Dennis James purportedly also used this very technique to build his extreme mass when he competed, dwarfing his competitors beside him with big, round, full muscle bellies and muscle that seemed to fill every nook and cranny on his wide frame. With respect to both bodybuilders, the theory behind this training style is not new, and is merely a different perspective on old, tried and tested techniques.
Before we can understand the training stimulus, technique and the benefits thereof, we first need to understand the different types of muscle contraction in layman’s terms. There are three types of muscle contraction:
- The concentric portion of the rep, also known as flexion, where a muscle shortens to move a weight in the desired direction.
- The eccentric portion of the rep, also known as extension, where a muscle lengthens, or expands to lower a weight in the opposite direction of the concentric rep.
- Isometric contraction, where a muscle neither lengthens not shortens but contracts intensely.
All three of the above have benefit to the bodybuilder. As it stands, many lifters place far too much emphasis on the concentric portion of the lift, while also negating the tempo of both the concentric and eccentric contractions almost entirely. This is of massive importance not just in terms of strength gain but also for hypertrophy, or muscle growth.
Mike Mentzer, an iconic bodybuilder in the golden era of bodybuilding, advocated the slow and controlled movement of both concentric and eccentric reps in his “Heavy Duty” training principle and it is here where bodybuilders, accustomed to the high volume workouts advocated by Shwartzenegger style training, began to take notice. Here we had bodybuilders doing a third of the “standard” workout volume, in half the proposed time, training a third as frequently but getting massive muscle gains! Why? People began to take notice.
The eccentric portion of the rep is the most overrated and overlooked aspect of the rep. It is here where one can place the greatest overload on a muscle, create the greatest micro trauma (and damage if not performed correctly and strictly). The key to muscle hypertrophy over an extended period of time is intensity. By varying the spectrum of intensity the muscle is forced to adapt by way of progressive overload and continually grows and thickens to compensate for the increased stress it is placed under. Super sets, tri-sets, partials, rest-pause, drop-sets etc etc, are all tried and tested methods to increase intensity and take a muscle out of its “comfort zone” to induce muscular failure. These startegies help give the “incentive” your body requires to make the tissue adapt, and ultimately, and ideally, hypertrophy. However a massive intensity technique, often over-looked and quite frankly avoided, because it hurts and hurts a lot, is simply slowing down the tempo of the reps, particularly the eccentric portions.
Slowing the reps
By slowing down the reps you are forcing the muscle to work harder, recruit far more motor units and muscle fibres within the tissue, deplete the mitochondrial cells far quicker and allow more lactate buildup. Ultimately, you are giving your muscles a big running kick slap in the face to spur on adaptation and growth, particularly if you are unfamiliar with this method and have not tried it before!
Various techniques and angles are used, and experimenting with these will give one an indication of what does and doesn’t work for ones genetic individuality, however I recommend the following tried and tested techniques:
Getting down to business
- Fast up, very slow down. By moving the weight explosively on the concentric portion of the rep we are aiming to recruit our fast twitch muscle fibres, the ones required for explosive strength and the ones with the greatest propensity to hypertrophy. By taking a slow and controlled move on our eccentric rep we are forcing all the intermediary and slow twitch muscle fibres to kick in and assist the fast twitch muscle fibres, because, although they are powerful, these fast twitch fibres fatigue faster whereas the intermediary and slow twitch muscle fibres are more geared for stamina. In this method we are as such stimulating all the muscle fibres thoroughly. Aim for very fast tempo up and 5-10 seconds on the way down to perform a single rep, aim for the standard bread and butter hypertrophy rep range in the 8-12 bracket to form a working set.
- Slow up and slow down. This causes lactic build up considerably more than the other methods as mitochondrial depletion occurs far more rapidly. All fibres are being taxed sufficiently and lactic acid is said to be an extremely powerful precursor to GH production, which is anabolic unto itself. Aim for 3-5 seconds up and then again 3-5 seconds down to form a single rep.
- Slow up, slow down, 3 regular tempo reps, repeat. This method is basically an advanced method, and eliminates any start/stop or pause portion of the rep where a muscle may have time to rest and recover. It is extremely painful and may be repeated several times (3-4) to form a single working set.
There are countless other ways to utilise MTUT style reps in your training arsenal. Try these aforementioned pointers in your next routine and you’ll not only be amazed at the pain and burn associated with such training but also the results. Enjoy!