How To Maximize Time Under Tension While Using Body Weight Exercises

Written By: Todd Kuslikis
August 07, 2013

Time under tension is one of the most important principles for muscle growth. This principle applies to weight lifting and body weight exercises equally. If you are not increasing the amount of time that the muscle is undergoing tension than you really are not undergoing any type of real change.

For the past few months I have been going through Gold Medal Bodies’ Parallettes Two program. I have been really excited with the changes that have occurred. I am on the 3rd phase of the program and beginning to be able to put moves together in a sequence. I am by no means a master but am seeing significant improvement.

Here are a couple videos to check out my progress. The first is me doing a lever spin. The second is me doing a front lever to V Sit to handstand. So far I have been very happy with P2. It has dramatically improved my strength and balance.

My only complaint is that my muscle mass has gone down. The program is more geared toward body weight strength not hypertrophy (muscle growth).

So as a result, two weeks ago I decided to embark on another 6 weeks of Bodyweight Overload in combination with P2. I had some hesitations because it is really intense and P2 already takes up about an hour a day but decided to move forward anyway.

I worked on creating a hybrid which I am now working through. Its essentially combining the best of muscle hypertrophy (Bodyweight Overload) and strength/balance (P2).

Good stuff.

However, this article is not meant to be an update on my progress. This article is meant to share a technique I learned from the free ebook I download from professional bodybuilder Ben Pakulski called “Double Your Gains“.

He is a top ranked bodybuilder and researcher. I often like to download bodybuilder ebooks and see how I can apply their principles to body weight exercises. Sometimes they don’t work but most of the time they do… and the effects can be astounding.

In the book he talks about Time Under Tension. As explained above, this is an important principle for getting bigger muscles. Yet Ben takes it one step further. He says that Time Under Tension is not what you should be shooting for. You should be trying to achieve MAXIMAL Time Under Tension.

Maximal Time Under Tension brings even more intensity and tension to the exercise.

Ben uses the example of a barbell. You hold the barbell in front of you and squeeze your hands together and it engages more of your chest muscle. Do this while doing bench press and you have recruited more muscle fibers and made the exercise MUCH, MUCH harder.

Here’s a video of him explaining more.

It’s pretty cool stuff huh?

How Do You Apply This To Body Weight Exercises?

You can use this Maximal Time Under Tension principle in almost any body weight exercise to make it harder.

Let’s take the push up as an example.

While doing the push up you can use the ground to push against in a horizontal manner to make your chest muscles tighten up even more. The force shouldn’t be just up and down (like the normal push up) but also be horizontal as you push against the earth.

Take a look at the picture below.

You’ll notice that I am squeezing my hands together as hard as I can against the ground to engage the chest muscles even further.

Keep the horizontal tension throughout every repetition (the up portion and down portion).

Its important to note that you will not be able to do as many push ups when using this technique. That’s ok. You will be tearing more muscle tissue which is the purpose of doing the push ups in the first place.

This is why its called MAXIMAL Time Under Tension. You are controlling where the tension lies and increasing it the fullest.

You will also need to go slower during each exercise because you will be focusing on not just how many reps you can do but also increasing the tension of the muscle.

What Other Exercises Can I Apply This Technique?

You can apply this technique to a ton of different exercises. Here are just a few…

Maximal Tension Chest Dips

The maximal tension chest dip is one of the best exercises for building chest hypertrophy. If you don’t know how to do a chest dip, here is a great tutorial.

 

Maximal Tension Falling Tower

If you don’t know how to do falling tower here’s a video I made a few years ago. Remember to implement Maximal Time Under Tension by squeezing your thighs together the entire time.

 

Maximal Tension Hip Dips

Hips Dips are great to strengthen your core, lats and get rid of love handles. Here’s a tutorial if you don’t know how to do them. Though remember to go slowly and really squeeze the arm and legs together like how the arrows suggest.

 

Maximal Tension Stretch Push Up

This is the Stretch Push Up. Here’s a tutorial if you don’t know how to do it.

 

Maximal Tension Tricep Dips

When applying this technique to Tricep Dips its a little harder. You want to squeeze outward but also keep your elbows tight to your body. Its not an easy exercise to apply Maximal Time Under Tension but try your best. If you don’t know how to do this exercise here’s a tutorial.

 

Maximal Tension Squats

Here’s the normal squat but with Maximal Time Under Tension applied to it. When you squeeze inward you are engaging the adductor muscles of the leg. You can also squeeze outward and engage the abductor muscles. It really is a sweet technique, isn’t it? 🙂

 

Maximal Tension Lunges

This is one of my favorite Maximal Time Under Tension exercises. It really forces the hamstrings of the front leg and the hip flexors/quads of the back leg to engage.  A lot of people say that you can’t work your hamstrings with just body weight exercises but this is a perfect example of how you can.

 

Maximal Tension Pull Ups

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maximal Tension Pull Ups are super challenging and will force your lats to contract even further. Really try to rip the bar apart throughout every second of the set.

 

Maximal Tension Chin Ups

The Maximal Tension Chin Up will make your biceps scream faster than any other exercise. However, you must try to pull the bar apart as hard as you can while doing every rep of the chin up. You’ll find that you won’t be able to do your normal amount of reps. That’s totally fine. Focus on creating TENSION. That’s where real change occurs.

***

From now on try to incorporate this principle of Maximal Time Under Tension to each exercise in your workout routine. You’ll be astounded at how quickly you fatigue and how quickly your muscle grows.

Remember, Time Under Tension does not cause the greatest growth but Maximal Time Under Tension does. You don’t want to just tense the muscle by doing the standard type of exercises. You want to force it to tense even further than it would have normally done.

That’s the real key.

Maximize your Time Under Tension and you’ll be astounded with the results.

-Todd

Show/Hide Comments (16 comments)
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16 Comments
  1. Your mom

    Lost me at Mike chang. That guys sucks. Here is a video of him half repping his “world record” https://youtu.be/L9OysMeBSek

    Reply
  2. realthor

    Hey Todd, I am glad I have stumbled upon your website. The video interview just opened my eyes regarding time under tension (I was studying it in depth already ready medical reports and studies).

    In the video on this page Ben talks about maximal contractions at the shortened possible position of the muscle and also about these additional tensions. What I didn’t quite get is: are the additional tensions supposed to happen in the same muscle or in the adjacent muscles in the worked area. I know that max protein synthesis happens when there is muscle teardown and also when there is enough TUT.

    If we train a specific muscle, say biceps via chin-ups, with good form so that we cause micro-tear-down but also apply the tension to the sides in the bar, that secondary move would create tension in the triceps and some in the lats but very likely not causing enough damage in these muscles to trigger more protein synthesis. That’s why it could be more of a fat-burner than a muscle growth move. Only if you would be able to push so strongly sideways that you cause micro-teardown would this additional move help mass building…

    Please give me your thoughts on this.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  3. Kofi Akorli

    Wow Todd, you really have given me inspiration to start working out again, I tried a few years back but I went off track because I thought bodyweight exercises couldn’t give me the size gains I wanted, but seeing your progression has proven to me that it definitely can. I’m comparing your photos in this post with some of your previous ones and I have to say, looking good my man, I’m jumping back on the bandwagon … 🙂 …

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Awesome Kofi!! I very much appreciate it and welcome back on the bandwagon! Let me know if you have any q’s!!

      Reply
  4. Dean

    Awesome article.

    It’s surprising the amount of skinny guys, or just people who want to build muscle in general who don’t realise the importance of TUT.

    It’s huge. Thanks for showing it under the body weight training concept.

    I absolutely loved it!

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Yes! So true Dean! TUT is critical.

      Glad you like the article!

      Reply
  5. Jonni Hautamaki

    Just tested this with Bodyweight Overoad program and it was so good addition to normal program! I recommend this!

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Awesome Jonni! Haven’t heard from you in awhile. Glad you’re still kickin it! 🙂

      Reply
      • Jonni Hautamaki

        Of course I am kickin it :D! Last week at bodyweight overload progrman is going. After that I will share my results at Bodyweight Overload facebook page 🙂

        Reply
    • Gil

      Just finding your article almost 10 years later but I will definitely apply this starting my next workout. Thanks

      Reply
  6. anon

    Its a true principle. I taught a informal seminar at the college I go to. People thought bodyweight exercises were only for warmups or endurance. They did submit that one arm pushups and other advanced bodyweight exercises could build muscle. Using a timed count of 4,2,4 down, hold, up I was literally able to make 10 pushups unbearable for most. When used on pullups and chinups the overall level of strength required increased dramatically. People literally had a whole new world open up to them. Its very useful. I have used these principles on a variety of exercises and have increased the difficulty of all exercises overall.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Wow! Way to go Anon. Yes, increasing time under tension will make practically any exercise harder. Sounds like you turned a lot of people on to body weight exercises!! 🙂

      Reply
  7. Francois Peloquin

    Brilliant! This makes me want to start BW overload now.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Sweet Francois! Glad you found the information valuable! 🙂

      Reply
  8. Elvis

    Love this technique. Have you heard of Muscle control by Maxick. It a program that teaches you to contract and relax almost all of your major muscle groups by will. So it is exciting to mix that with regular exercises by contracting the muscles being used and relax does that aren’t being used.
    P.S loved your free 3 month program

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hey Elvis,

      Never heard of it but will definitely have to check it out. Sounds like a sweet program. Though remember that Maximal Time Under Tension is more than just contracting the muscle like a static isometric. Its contracting the muscle against a immovable object while also doing a dynamic exercise. 🙂

      Glad you liked the 3 month program!

      Todd

      Reply
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