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Time Under Load in Bodybuilding and Weight Training

Many high intensity theorists toss around an intriguing idea they call Time Under Load (TUL). But before addressing the merits of TUL, lets cover the basic premise most people use while working out. Many assume that the goal of performing an exercise is to simply make the weight go up and down. They think they're suppose to lift and lower the weight as many times as they can within a certain range of repetitions. It makes sense; every program, as ours is, is based upon completing a certain number of reps. Then as we start to reach muscular failure, we attempt to move faster while losing our form for the sake of completing our target number of repetitions. Viewing the completion of those reps as the "end all" of your set can create a problem with your training technique and focus. In an attempt to complete the set, all form goes out the door and our motion can become sloppy, careless and reckless and you're less likely to be thinking about how the muscle is working.

People who view exercise this way often perform it as if they're trying to "beat the weight". However, simply making the weight go up and down is not the goal of performing an exercise. Each repetition is simply a means to accomplishing the real end: stimulating the muscle enough to trigger it to grow. In other words, the real objective is not to "beat the weight" as much as it is to "beat the muscle".

Another focus problem is using the repetition count as a means of measuring your training progress. Its easy to assume that if you can lift the same weight more times using the same exercise, that you have gotten stronger. Some people assume the more repetitions they perform, no matter how they're done, the better they have performed. Exercising under this assumption again leads one to sacrifice proper form for the sake of a few extra fast, sloppy, relatively unproductive reps.

Now getting back to Time Under Load (TUL). The theory states that its not the number of reps that is important but it's the time the muscle is actually contracting. All the repetition range does is target a specified amount of time, which the muscle is under stress. For example a rep range of 5-8 would be 20 seconds of contraction or a rep range of 8-12 would be 30 seconds of stimulation. Still more research needs to be done to see if a productive program can be formulated using only TUL for each bodypart as the benchmark for training. Just as a practical observation, counting reps is easy and can be accomplished anywhere while using TUL will require watching a clock or stop-watch. Not very convenient in a busy gym.

The main point to be made is that the focus while working out should be on a quality muscular contraction each time the weight is lifted. To rush a set just because you're almost at the end in an effort to complete some magical number of repetitions can be self-defeating. Stimulating the muscle thoroughly should be the first priority whether counting reps or watching the clock. If you figure out you would rather do curls for 20 seconds rather than 8 repetitions, that's up to you. But your technique should be under control and focused throughout the set. Get as much muscular stimulation as possible out of every second of the exercise, rather than simply trying to complete each rep for the sake of completing it.

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