One of the many neat things about weight lifting is that it never gets dull, as there are so many variables to manipulate. Time under tension is an excellent variable for building muscle mass (Smith, 2015). Today we are going to utilize the lat pulldown exercise as an example.
Tips for using the time under tension variable to increase the effectiveness of your lifts:
1. Use an adequate amount of load, while maintaining form
Here’s a mistake I see a lot, and I’ve done it myself… adding more weight and losing proper form. Example) Adding weight to your lat pulldown before you are ready and muscling it down, which usually produces a jerking motion with the upper body and torso. If you can’t maintain proper form when adding weight (shoulders back and pinned, chest is up, isolate the back, no jerking with the torso), then I strongly encourage you to keep the current weight that you have, and manipulate the time under tension variable, instead.
Remember, there is NO glass ceiling to weight lifting, you can always improve…don’t rush. Slow and steady wins the race.
2. Control the tempo of the entire movement, particularly focusing on the eccentric, or lowering phase of the movement.
Lat Pulldown Example:
1. Hold the bar with a shoulder width grip, or slightly wider if there are no shoulder injuries.
2. Pull the bar down in a controlled manner, down to your upper chest, just below your neck. Your shoulder should be pinned back, your chest should be up, and you should not utilizing your torso to “muscle down” the bar. Think of almost pulling your elbows down to your side, which will increase engagement in the lats (Smith, 2015).
3. Here is the ECCENTRIC phase of the movement. Slowly lower the bar back to the starting position, taking about 3-5 seconds to complete the phase. Aim to make the eccentric phase (lowering phase), 2x as long as the concentric phase (pulling phase). Research shows that you increase microtrauma when you focus on controlling the eccentric phase of the movement, thus increasing levels of hypertrophy (muscle mass) (Smith, 2015).
Check out this video to see it all put together!
Erin Kershaw, M.S., ACSM-HFS
Fitness Director, The Edge Fitness Center at the Ascutney Mountain Resort