Time Under Tension Workout Plan: Eccentric Weight Training As the Most Effective Way to Build Muscle

I tried every weightlifting technique I came across. But loading on more plates wasn’t necessarily paying off. It put more stress on my joints and tendons and over time I became more susceptible to injuries.

It wasn’t until I tried eccentric weight training that I realized what I was missing. I’m here to give you the lowdown on what “time under tension” means at the gym. Its benefits may surprise you.

What Is Time Under Tension?

Time under tension, or TUT, refers to the length of time a muscle is under strain. TUT is measured by the time spent in any given set, focusing on a steady tempo favoring the eccentric movement. 

It rides on the theory that the more stress, or tension, that’s placed on the muscle, the more breakdown will occur, leading to gains.

To put this in perspective, let’s break down the muscle movement into concentric and eccentric movement.

Concentric vs. Eccentric Contraction

The process of lifting or pushing during strength training refers to a concentric contraction. As the muscle shortens, tension increases—for example, the upward motion of a squat, or the lifting phase of a hamstring curl. Weightlifting is commonly associated with this type of contraction.

An eccentric contraction refers to a movement that lengthens the muscle while being contracted, as opposed to shortening it. Imagine the bicep curl for one moment. As you lower your arm back down, that’s considered eccentric.

Focusing on this type of contraction is also known as negative training. The muscle absorbs the energy output of the heavy load. That energy then releases through elastic recoil, which is a bounce-like action leading to the next muscular movement.

TUT Explained

Let’s go back to that bicep curl. An individual training with TUT may spend 4 seconds in the eccentric motion (i.e. lowering the weight as opposed to contraction), but only take 2 seconds to lift that load again (concentric).

To maximize muscle gains with time spent under tension, some claim it requires a set that last anywhere between 30 and 60 seconds. This would imply that shorter, or longer, sets are not optimal for gains.

However, there’s a vast number of factors to consider with successful TUT work, but more on that later.

The Five Benefits of Using Time Under Tension

time under tension - benefits

Here I’m expanding more on the reasons why you should incorporate TUT technique into your workout plan.


Muscle Building Superiority

Slowly grinding out moderate reps with heavy weights is often preferred because it’s an effective way to induce muscle damage. It’s those tiny tears in the muscle fiber that every strength trainer is aiming for—to generate muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth)

Evidence indicates that weight training emphasizing eccentric movements is far superior for promoting mass gains than the popular conventional concentric techniques.


Enlist Heavier Weights

With a focus on eccentric contractions, you can lift dramatically more weight than you would be able to otherwise. 

Let’s borrow our bicep curl example. Pick a heavy weight that you wouldn’t normally do more than 4-5 reps with. Instead of having a strict form, you could perform the concentric part of the movement with a loose form, and elongate the time for the negative (eccentric) part.  

That doesn’t mean you should focus on this contraction type alone, but you can take advantage of its potential.

The muscle growth that occurs due to the heavy load, along with the conserved energy, could lead to more strength. Power isn’t far behind.


Metabolism for the Win

One study found that individuals who participated in a workout with an eccentric focus observed their RMR (resting metabolic rate) increase for up to 48 hours post-training. 

If your target includes extreme definition, this benefit should be one to keep in mind.


Improves Overall Performance

You may think this only applies to hardcore athletes, but eccentric weight training can boost the overall performance of any bodybuilder or fitness fanatic. 

Research shows that those who base their training on concentric moves alone are missing out on what using a tempo can offer.

This study indicates that omitting time under tension prevents an individual from reaching their performance capacity.


Think of It as Therapy

Eccentric contractions play a role in our mobility, strength, and stability. It’s not only time spent under tension, but also includes the preparation for rehabilitation. 

Anyone who lifts weights will be aware of the injuries it can cause. Up to 60 percent and the most common relate to muscle sprains and strains.

Time under tension strengthens ligaments and tendons, which can reduce the risk of picking up these kinds of trauma. 

Eccentrics have also been used to prevent, and heal hamstring injuries, for example.

Medical conditions are shown to improve with eccentric training—including:

  • Osteopenia.
  • Tendonitis.
  • Sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss).

Time Under Tension Myths

Similar to any other training technique out there, we have some popular myths to bust concerning time under tension.

Leads to Less Flexibility

The sensation of muscle swelling can make you feel restricted. This tightness can occur with eccentric movements, but it doesn’t necessarily mean less flexibility.

It’s proven that time under tension is the best way to lengthen a muscle, not shorten it. According to one study, lower body flexibility, in particular, is enhanced. 

Slower the Better

It’s a common misnomer—TUT advertised as the “slow” form of lifting weights.

As mentioned earlier, time under tension is usually associated with tempo work. Meaning, your training buddy may count or use another device to keep movement at the pace required.

A slow eccentric contraction of a bicep curl could be beneficial. But the velocity and tempo of another exercise with this method may be totally different.

Take kettlebell squat jumps, for example. When performing this high-intensity exercise, the eccentric load is placed on the posterior chain. This group of muscles includes the hamstrings, glutes, and trapezius.

Adhering to your standard velocity, while focusing on the eccentric contraction, can improve your speed and jumping ability. The time spent lowering down to prepare for your jump is considered your time under tension, enhancing those posterior muscles. 

Like other training modules, it depends on the individual and exercise at hand.

Soreness Increases

Some see DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness; which means that muscle soreness doesn’t occur immediately after training but a day later) as a negative outcome of eccentric weight training that signals injury ahead. As a result, trainers may respond to trainees’ complaints by decreasing the time spent in eccentric loading.

To avoid extreme post-workout pain (usually the day after) from time under tension, find a middle ground. That means, paying attention to the time spent loading and duration of any given workout. Slow progression versus going full force could be beneficial here. 

Eccentric weight training shouldn’t leave you feeling debilitated from soreness. 

If training in cycles, count on this method more during offseason than in competition.

Comparison with other techniques

time under tension - comparison

Now that the benefits and myths are laid out, you might be wondering how TUT compares to other strength-training techniques.

The thing is, none of the below are superior to the next. Time under tension can be a useful technique in conjunction with any of the following, depending on how it’s balanced.

Time Under Tension vs. Progressive Overload

Progressive overload places more tension onto a particular muscle over time. The constant increase in volume and range of motion forces any muscle to adapt, leading to heavier lifts.

However, focusing solely on lifting heavy won’t result in hulk-like mass. If this were the case, powerlifters would be much bigger than bodybuilders. They lift immense loads, but bodybuilders tend to come out on top where muscle gain is concerned.

Don’t get me wrong. Progressive overload in itself is a great technique. But without other techniques, it won’t get you very far where super-sized mass is concerned. To incorporate TUT, make sure you avoid increasing intensity while increasing volume. Meaning that, for example, you start with testing UTU in the last couple of sets of one or two exercises.  Then, adjust your intensity level from there.

This will help avoid fatigue and failure to recover as you experiment with this method.

Time Under Tension vs. Explosive Training

Explosive training involves lifting weights rapidly. You’re enlisting both speed and strength to achieve more power. 

Time under tension is usually adjusted in one of two ways. The first would be by doing fewer reps, therefore decreasing the amount of time the muscle is under tension. 

To increase TUT, alter rep speed. 

Say you perform six reps with a slow tempo and 12 reps at a faster tempo. The first set can provide more time under tension than the latter.

However, it’s crucial to avoid completely swinging over to one side. If you only perform short slow sets, it’s not optimal for gains. Conversely, neither is entire long fast sets. 

A popular method is to lower down slowly for time under tension and “explode” back upwards to complete the rep.

This means your first movement will be well-controlled with a powerful, and purposeful, second movement. Exerting maximal force, in a minimal amount of time, does have its place.

Time Under Tension vs. Heavy Weights

We all know that lifting heavy has its benefits, from increasing joint stability to lowering body fat and beyond. It also makes daily activities easier.

But if that was all we did at the gym, we’d be greatly missing out on conditioning and other essentials for strength building.

“Heavy” is relative as it varies drastically from one person to the next. Regular training with “bulky” loads can indeed lead to larger and stronger muscles. 

However, focusing on heavy weights alone does nothing for our endurance. For that, using lighter weights while maximizing your reps and TUT is where it’s at. Use your heavy weights when needed, but be smart and don’t overload yourself.

Examples of Time Under Tension Bodyweight Exercises

You can practice the time-under-tension technique at home with no equipment. I remember when I was introduced to this quick 10-minute workout, and the results had me floored.

Complete each exercise for a period of 60 to 90 seconds before progressing to the next. The key is to keep that tension throughout the entirety of each exercise. Move at a moderate pace and then repeat the sequence until you’ve made it to the full 10 minutes.



gain strength - body squat


Stand shoulder-width apart with your arms stretched out in front of you. Bend at the knees and lower into a squat position. Focus on your downward motion (eccentric contraction) for a few seconds. 

Hold for one to two seconds. Push through your legs—as if you want to create a hole in the floor with your feet—while returning to your standing position. That’s one repetition.

Pro Tip:

  • Keep your hamstrings, quads, and glutes squeezed throughout.





Enter into a plank position, but with the hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart—arms should be straight. Lower down your body in a controlled manner—until your chest is a few inches from the floor. 

Same as the squat, spend a few seconds focusing on the downward motion. Push back up to your original starting position. That completes one rep.

Pro Tips:

  • Firmly engage your pecs and triceps throughout.
  • Don’t lock-out on top or rest on the floor below.


Reverse Crunches


Lie on your back, knees together and legs bent in a 90-degree position. Your feet will rest on the floor. Situate your hands face-down beside you or underneath your hips for support. Tighten your abdominals to lift your hips away from the floor. 

With your butt now off the ground, bring your knees towards your chest. Now repeat in reverse. Slowly release your knees and lower your feet towards the floor in a controlled manner (eccentric motion)—back to the starting position. One rep completed.

Pro Tip:

  • To increase the challenge, bring your hands up by your ears.

Examples of Time Under Tension exercises with weights

Your foundation level work with eccentric training usually starts with a set tempo. I’ve chosen 3-5 seconds since this range is successful for most strength and gain protocols.

For many lifters, this will be a major change when one is used to lifting, say, 12 reps in 12 seconds or less.

If this is your first time working with an eccentric tempo, use less weight than you normally would. Soon enough, you’ll adjust and be back to your top loads. Furthermore, ask someone to spot your pace and form for the first few attempts so you can focus.

To keep things simple, I’ve constructed a workout containing three exercises. You’ll complete three sets for each move, with eight reps per set.

Start with a 3-second tempo for the duration of each eccentric contraction. Once you’ve mastered that, gradually build up to 5 seconds.


Dumbbell Squats


Take your stance as described in the at-home squat section above, but hold both dumbbells firmly at your side. Bend your knees and go “deep”—lower your hips so that your thighs become parallel to the floor. Use your tempo of 3 seconds (eccentric contraction).

Pause for one second, then briskly come back up again. Straighten the legs completely while doing so. That’s one rep.

Pro Tip:

  • Firmly squeeze the glutes at the top of the movement for extra power.
  • Use a smith machine for safety.
  • Make sure you have a spotter because after a few (slow) reps of TUT, the exercise becomes really hard to perfom. 


Bench Press


To set-up, lay down on the bench. Your eyes will be level with the bar and as you grab it, make sure your pinky fingers line up with the markings on the bar.

Ensure you have a balanced grip. As you unrack the bar, take a deep breath, and keep your arms straight. Lower the bar with the designated tempo and press back up again (one rep).

Pro Tips:

  • In order to target the chest muscle, don’t tuck your elbows to the side
  • Use a smith machine barbell for safety.
  • Get help from a spotter.


Shoulder Presses


Sit tight and bring you shoulder blades together. Position your arms away from your side to further target the front deltoid and take stress of your triceps. Lift the weight (barbell, dumbbells or machine handles) up and slowly lower it to you to your chin level focusing on the eccentric part of the movement.

Pro Tips:

  • Don’t pass below your chin as this will activate upper chest muscles.
  • Make sure you have a spotter.

The Takeaway

Eccentric weight training isn’t meant to be the sole method you use. It’s one of many techniques you can adopt to boost muscle gains.

What’s more, time under tension conserves your energy, is a super-effective way to build muscle and enhances your overall performance at the gym.

If that’s your goal, I have a feeling you won’t regret giving it a go.