Your ego is killing your gains
Hopefully by now I’ve got your attention.
Also, apologies in advance to anyone looking for a silver bullet or ‘get ripped quick’ scheme (hmmm — I like that; I may have to coin that phrase).
The truth is, getting in better shape of any sort takes time, effort, and a healthy dose of determination. If this were not the case we’d all live in New Jersey, a state where you can legally walk around with your shirt off 365 days a year:
Also, before you start to panic, please know that I’m not here to debunk the fact that lifting heavy weights is the key to achieving hypertrophy (i.e. muscle growth). Just like the laws of physics, that truism is here to stay until proven otherwise.
Instead, what I am here to say is that trying to follow that age-old maxim, lifting the heaviest weights you possibly can, may be the exact thing that’s holding you back and keeping you from achieving your goals.
It certainly was for me…
My Aha Moment
As you may know, I recently wrote an e-book on fitness; obviously this makes me an expert on the subject. I already know what you’re thinking and contrary to popular opinion, I don’t know EVERYTHING…
OK relax, I’m totally joking. Not about being omnipotent, either. In truth, I learn more and more each day just how little I actually know. Furthermore, recognizing how little one knows is one of the first steps in becoming wiser – but, I digress.
During my research on time under tension (AKA ‘TUT’), I stumbled upon an interesting article. For those of you who are unfamiliar with TUT, it essentially means the duration, typically measured in seconds, that the target muscle is being worked. Put another way, it’s the time that it takes you to complete one full rep, minus any periods of rest.
Honestly, despite working out for well over a decade, TUT isn’t something I’d ever really paid much attention to. I mean, I always prioritize proper form which does keep my weights down a little, especially versus the way I lifted in my twenties (read: almost entirely with my EGO).
Good form entails using (what I thought were) slow, controlled movements. But until I really started paying attention to my TUT, I had no idea how much progress I was “leaving on the table” during each workout!
According to the article above and my subsequent research, the optimal TUT for maximizing hypertrophy is approximately four to six seconds per rep. This may not sound like a very long time, but once you experiment with slowing things down in the gym, you will quickly see just how much harder your lifts become.
As a result, you will almost definitely need to decrease the weights you’re lifting – often significantly, in order to hit the same number of repetitions you are used to.
To help illustrate how we can utilize TUT to our maximum advantage, let’s first turn our attention to the ‘egocentric method’ and see what that looks like. Sadly, the majority of folks that I see in the gym – myself included until very recently, fall victim to this game.
I don’t want no ‘one second man’
I was in the gym last week doing some standard seated cable rows, which left me sitting directly across from some bro who was doing lat pull-downs. As per usual, I wasn’t paying much attention to him (or anyone else for that matter) since I was pretty consumed by my own workout, but I eventually got a glimpse of his form while resting between sets.
The guy was in decent shape, and I’m being generous here. But as is often the case, his physique certainly could have been worse. However, I quickly noticed that he was pulling some pretty heavy iron. So heavy did it seem in fact, that I made it a point to stroll behind him and nonchalantly “check out his stack”.
(NOT) to my surprise, he was lifting about the same weight I had been using a few minutes prior while performing the same exercise myself. But here’s the kicker – as mentioned above, my current approach is to spend a full six count (not exactly six seconds in all honesty, but close to it) on each rep with absolute focus on the mind/muscle connection to ensure I am obliterating the target muscle.
To the contrary, ‘pull-down bro’ was literally spending less than one second per rep. That’s right – LESS THAN ONE SECOND pulling the bar down, contracting (if that even happened), and “guiding” the bar back up. I use the word guiding here loosely since as you can imagine, each one of his reps ended with an all-too-familiar metal CLANK as the stack of weights slammed back down to rejoin its brethren.
The clank is of course a telltale sign that someone is working out with too much weight. Generally speaking, you should be able to slowly return the bar and subsequently the stack, without making very much noise at all.
I don’t know about you, but there isn’t much I can do well in a second – except maybe sneezing. And even that I can’t do on command!
The drastic difference six seconds can make
If you’ve made it this far, congrats. This is where it gets really interesting:
On the one hand you’ve got ‘PD Bro’, quickly picking things up and putting them down. He’s lifting the same weights as me – but our physiques sure don’t look the same. So what gives?
As you can probably guess by now, it all comes down to differences in TUT.
If we just assume he and I are using the exact same weights for the exact same rep counts (which is not true but still), I am literally putting SIX TIMES more stress on my muscle fibers.
But not the bad kind of stress that leads to injuries. No, the good kind that leads to increases in strength and muscle mass. In fact, not only does ‘slow & controlled’ method lead to greater gains overall, but the risk of injury is also substantially lower.
By jerking around a heavy load, you will be at the greatest risk for sustaining a season-ending injury. Obviously as we get older this risk only goes up, making the slow and steady approach that much more attractive for the senior bros out there.
Get BIG by lifting lighter weights?
OK yes, this goes against almost every single bodybuilding maxim, and is probably contrary to everything you’ve been taught thus far. But the truth remains – almost every person I observe in the gym is simply lifting too heavy and spending too little time per rep! And of course, these two symptoms are really just opposite sides of the same coin.
After experimenting with my own lifts I realized that my form, which I’d taken much pride in, wasn’t so great after all. Granted I wasn’t throwing the weights around recklessly like I see many others do. But I also wasn’t spending enough time on each rep — lowering the overall effectiveness of my workouts.
And if you know anything about me, then you know how much I HATE inefficiency. As a result, this has been a very eye opening experience, one that I wanted to share with you ASAP.
To be clear, you can’t simply start lifting lighter weights while keeping everything else the same and expect to see results. TUT is all about slowing it down. If you can consciously slow your reps down to the 4-6 second range without reducing weight, more power to ya! However, this almost certainly means you were using weights that were too light to begin with.
Despite the universal applicability of the concepts in this article, I can all but guarantee that no one under 25 will heed my advice. Focusing on TUT and form instead of sheer weight and rep counts takes A LOT of maturity – maturity that until very recently, even I didn’t have.
However, once you’re able to see the drastic results that increased TUT can lead to, I’m sure you will quickly jump on the bandwagon….the TUT bandwagon, that is.