Time Under Load

“Colleges hate geniuses, just as convents hate saints.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Question; would you train this athlete…

That's my boy --

That's my boy, shorin' up the hot corner

…the same as this knucklehead?


Well, the fact is, that in many ways science tells us that they should train the same.  The rub comes from the fact that empirically speaking (and this is where the art of training comes into play), there are some subtle, yet very important ways in which they should never be on the same page.  Let’s consider just one aspect of training for a moment: time under load (or, if you prefer, time under tension).  We’re taking about muscular gains, here; gettin’ swole — hypertrophy.

From the Wow, that sounds a lot like Dr. McGuff files…

So I came across an interesting T-Nation article recently; interesting, not so much for the training protocol information it provided, but in that who the author was endorsing this particular protocol — namely, Dave Tate.  The subject of this particular article is hypertrophy, and how best to train for that end; the interesting thing is, once you break down the science behind what Dave Tate is endorsing here, it becomes clear that both he and Doug McGuff (and anyone seeking pure hypertrophy, for that matter) are preaching from the same pulpit.  The delivery methods are different, and the delivery men might as well be from different planets, but when broken-down to the bare essentials, the message is strikingly similar.  The total time under tension between the two protocols each endorses are, well, nearly identical.  Why?; because it’s been shown both scientifically, and (most importantly), empirically to work.

Now remember, we’re speaking strictly of hypertrophy gains here.  If you’re a seasoned athlete who’s primarily concerned with strength, power and speed gains, such a protocol is likely (at least during the protocol itself, and for the near future thereafter) to negatively affect those aspects.  This is why when I go on a hypertrophy bender (25 for a bigger engine), I prefer to shade a little more toward the strength end of the spectrum.  Sometimes, though, an athlete has to take a step back in order to take two forward.  Just a little something to keep in mind.  For those new to the iron game, though, it’s a different story.  But hell, newbies can perform repeated sets of — hell, I dunno — carrying  dumbbells from one end of the gym to the other, and make gains in both strength and size.  As always, keep in mind the cardinal dictate: Know thyself, know thy weakness(es) and know thy goals.

Back, though, to time under tension.  In the article, Dave Tate points out (correctly, in my experience), that the best hypertrophy gains are made — regardless of the specifics of the protocol, so long as the muscle(s) in question is/are placed under a constant tension with a load sufficient to induce temporary failure within a time period of 30 – 45 seconds, with a total time under tension not to exceed 90 to 135 seconds.  Again, we’re speaking about an emphasis on hypertrophy here.  Why these time brackets?  Because we want to hit that sweet-spot balance between exhausting all fibers (time and load dependent), and not allowing the slow twitch fibers enough time to sufficiently recover.  Now, there’s lots of room to maneuver within these two requisite time brackets — sets, reps, tempo, method — but just remember with the goal being hypertrophy, we want to aim for exhaustion of all muscle fiber types affected by the applicable exercise.

Something I’d like to quickly point out before we move on: a physiological response to induced stress (in our case, the body’s response to an exercise bout), cannot be isolated, nor can it be segmented.  That is to say, it is impossible to classify one modality as purely hypertrophy-inducing, strength-inducing, or otherwise.  And to convolute matters a bit more, we’ve got the variances in each individual’s genetic “hand” to deal with.  Personally, I rarely lift with a hypertrophy response as my aim, and yet I’m fairly well hypertrophied.  And conversely, I’ve run across athletes who rarely perform other than hypertrophy-leaning protocols, and who yet maintain an explosive, power-producing ability.  The latter case is much more rare in my experience, and yet I have run across it.  My point is that it is very important to think of exercise in the same way as, say,  insulin response to food ingestion, or the body’s energy system contribution in the face of various energy requirements.  We’re speaking in terms of shades here, not clearly defined cubby-holes.  There are no absolutes, only leanings.

Anyway, what’s interesting, when considering “Tate” protocol as compared to Dr. McGuff’s, is that we see the same, overall, time under tension prescription.  Tate breaks his up between three sets of 30 -45 seconds in length, per exercise, and he’ll perform 6 exercises in a workout.  That’s between 90 and 135 seconds of TUT per exercise, and, at 6 exercises per workout, we’re at a grand total of between 9 and 13.5 minutes of overall TUT in a single outing.  Looks rather familiar, huh?   What is different, though, is the prescribed dose.  Tate will perform his routine 4 times per week, whereas McGuff (in most instances) prescibes once/week.  Both methods, though, can be easily fine tuned by tracking the progress of one’s does-response.  Tate’s protocol splits the workouts so as to work roughly half the body in each workout, whereas McGuff takes an all-in-one view.  Stress is stress, though, as far as the body is concerned; that stress may be concentrated in one zone, but the overall response will still be additive on a whole body scale.  Keep that in mind.  What would be very interesting would be to put Tate on a McGuff protocol for a while and chart his dose-response curve.  I’d bet the farm that Tate would be a recovery “freak” and be able not only to tolerate, but make his best gains under 2 McGuff sessions per week.

By the way, I guess it’s TMuscle now, instead of T-Nation.  My bad; old habits die hard.  Different name, same chock- full-of-great-information site, though, that I love to hate.

Have a great weekend!

In health,