Workout Routines

The time-under-tension workout program for maximum total-body muscle gains

By counting down your reps in this three-day workout plan, you can stimulate more total-body muscle growth—even with relatively few reps.

by
Man Doing a Pushup
RossHelen / Getty
RossHelen / Getty
Duration 45
Exercises 6-7
Equipment Yes

One muscle-building strategy is a concept known as time under tension. The idea is that the longer you can keep tension in your muscles during a set, the more you’ll exhaust them, forcing them to grow to adapt.

One way to increase TUT is by doing more reps (duh). The other is to pause an exercise at a point in its range of motion and hold it for time. With countdown sets, you accomplish both simultaneously, delivering the maximum stimulus.

How it works

The problem with doing high reps (12 or more, typically) is that your form tends to break down, increasing your risk of injury. It also forces you to use lighter weights, sacrificing muscular tension. With countdown sets, you can fatigue your muscles while keeping your reps low by interspersing isometric holds (pausing a movement), effectively creating a long-lasting, high-TUT set.

For instance, you could perform six lateral raises and then hold your arms at 90° for six seconds, then repeat, dropping the reps and holds to five, four, and so on down to one.

Try this program for six weeks and you’ll see how more tension in your life can actually be a good thing.

Directions

Perform each workout (Days I, II, and III) once per week, resting a day between each session. Perform exercises marked with a letter (A, B, and sometimes C, or even D) in sequence, resting as needed in-between. So you’ll do a set of A, rest, then B, rest again, and repeat until all the prescribed sets are done. Perform the remaining exercises as straight sets.

Day 1 Workout Back, arms, abs, legs

Exercise 1A.

Deadlift You'll need: Barbell How to
Deadlift  thumbnail
4 sets
5 reps
As needed rest

Exercise 1B.

Pushup How to
Pushup  thumbnail
3 sets
Count down from 6 reps
As needed rest

Exercise 2A.

Lat Pulldown You'll need: Cable Machine How to
Lat Pulldown thumbnail
3 sets
Count down from 5 reps
As needed rest

Exercise 2B.

Triceps Pushdown You'll need: Elastic Band How to
Triceps Pushdown thumbnail
3 sets
15 reps
As needed rest

Exercise 2C.

Barbell Rollout You'll need: Barbell How to
Barbell Rollout  thumbnail
3 sets
12 reps
As needed rest

Exercise 3.

Goblet Squat You'll need: Kettlebells How to
Goblet Squat thumbnail
1 sets
6 reps
Count down from 6 rest

Day 2 Workout Chest, legs, arms, shoulders, core

Exercise 1A.

Bench Press You'll need: Barbell How to
Bench Press thumbnail
4 sets
5 reps
As needed rest

Exercise 1B.

Bulgarian Split Squat You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Bulgarian Split Squat thumbnail
4 sets
Count down from 5 reps
As needed rest

Exercise 2A.

Chinup You'll need: Pullup Bar How to
Chinup thumbnail
2 sets
As many as possible reps
As needed rest

Exercise 2B.

Lateral Raise You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Lateral Raise thumbnail
3 sets
Count down from 6 reps
As needed rest

Exercise 2C.

Side Plank You'll need: Medicine Ball How to
Side Plank thumbnail
3 sets
Hold for 30 sec. (each side) reps
As needed rest

Exercise 3A.

Dumbbell Curl You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Dumbbell Curl thumbnail
3 sets
10 each side reps
As needed rest

Exercise 3B.

Lying Triceps Extension You'll need: Dumbbells How to
 Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension thumbnail
3 sets
10 reps
As needed rest

Day 3 Workout Legs, arms, chest, abs

Exercise 1A.

Front Squat You'll need: Barbell How to
Front Squat thumbnail
4 sets
5 reps
As needed rest

Exercise 1B.

Dip You'll need: Dip Station How to
Dips thumbnail
3 sets
Count down from 5 reps
As needed rest

Exercise 2A.

Bentover Row You'll need: Barbell How to
Bent Over Row  thumbnail
3 sets
5 reps
Count down from 5 rest

Exercise 2B.

Leg Curl You'll need: Swiss Ball How to
Leg Curl  thumbnail
3 sets
10 reps
As needed rest

Exercise 2C.

Hanging Leg Raise You'll need: Pullup Bar How to
Hanging Leg Raise thumbnail
3 sets
10 reps
As needed rest

Exercise 2D.

Hammer Curl You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Hammer Curl thumbnail
3 sets
12 reps
As needed rest
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