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Menopause Fitness Moment: Time Under Tension Training

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time under tension training in menopause

Variety is the spice of life and, in my opinion, the secret to endless fun during your workouts. If you’re anything like me, doing the same activity over and over again is not something that sounds appealing and will eventually lead to skipping workouts and not being motivated. So to avoid that, I constantly change my routine and try out new things that I think could be beneficial from a fun and physiological perspective. Physiologically my goal is to stay strong and retain as much muscle mass as possible. Age-related muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia, is something that happens to all of us. Still, for women, the decline of estrogen during the menopausal transition exacerbates and accelerates this process. Luckily, there are ways to prevent excessive muscle loss, such as engaging in regular resistance training. There are many ways to incorporate resistance training, but some are more beneficial regarding muscle growth and strength. Today I’m going to share with you one such approach that I’m excited about; time under tension. Consider it a new spice in your workout spice cabinet. 

What is time under tension? 

This type of training focuses on how much time a muscle is under tension or strain during an exercise. Two ways to accomplish a time under tension approach are: 

(1) Increasing the number of repetitions. This is called high-volume training, and I love it so much that I have already shared my experience and tips in a different article that you can read here

(2) Setting a goal for the total time it takes to complete a set, which is the topic of today’s article. 

How does it work?

There are many ways to count the time you spent under tension, but in the end, you should aim for a specific range for each set. For example, evidence from the research indicates that slow lifting movement (6 s up and 6 s down) performed to fatigue produces more significant increases in rates of muscle protein synthesis than the same movement performed rapidly (1 s up and 1 s down).

  • It seems that the sweet spot for muscle hypertrophy, aka growth, is around 60 seconds.
  • If you want to focus more on strength, the time under tension appears to be more effective in the 10-30 second range. 

Research has shown that women have a greater degree of fatigue, which means that we need more volume or time under tension to reach failure during an exercise when compared to men. This fact is another reason why time under tension training might be a perfect addition to your current exercise regimen. What’s clear is that extended amounts under tension may contribute to more significant muscle hypertrophy/growth.

How to bring it all together

My favorite way to use this approach is to use the same amount of time for the eccentric (muscle lengthens/i.e. lowering during a biceps curl) as the concentric (muscles shorten, i.e., lifting during a biceps curl) phase. 

For example, during a biceps curl, I count 4 seconds up, 1-second pause at the top, 4 seconds down, 1-second pause at the bottom. This count brings my time under tension to 10 seconds per repetition. Since my goal is hypertrophy, I would complete six repetitions per set (6 x 10 seconds = 60 seconds). That said, I like to increase my time to 90 seconds based on my theory that women benefit from more time under tension (see below). 

Basic guidelines

  • Use lower weights. It’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is to control the speed of a movement. 
  • 60-90 seconds per set
  • 3-6 seconds per repetition
  • Focus on counting during both the eccentric and concentric phase of each repetition

Food for thought

I’m going to share a theory of mine with you, which I put to the test myself. I want to mention that I did not find any research to back this theory up, but that isn’t a surprise because most studies of this kind only include men. So my hypothesis, backed by my personal experience, is as follows: since women have a higher threshold for fatigue, it might be worth increasing the 60-second guideline to 90 seconds. What do you think?