Time Under Tension Vs Progressive Overload!


Time under tension and progressive overload are two of the most important bodybuilding training principles.

If you want to get huge and freaky strong then you need to use both of these principles in your training programs!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Powerbuilding
  • Part 2: Forced Reps 
  • Part 3: Cluster Sets
  • Part 4: Eccentric Training
  • Part 5: Giant Sets

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you 5 of the best ways to use time under tension and progressive overload to build muscle mass.

Time under tension and progressive overload are both extremely important for building muscle. Time under tension is a measure of how long your muscles have to work during a set and progressive overload is a measure of how much weight you are lifting on your exercises.

If you want maximum muscle mass then you have to lift extremely heavy weights but you also need to perform very long sets with lots of time under tension. It’s not one or the other – you need both!

The bodybuilding legend Ronnie Coleman knows this better than anyone:

“It’s called bodybuilding and the only way you can build muscle is with repetition. Heavy weight, as heavy as possible and for as many repetitions as possible.”

Ronnie Coleman is exactly right!

If you want to build as much muscle mass as possible then you need to perform some of your sets with heavy weights and some of your sets with lots of time under tension.

Just take a look at the following equation:

“Hypertrophy = Load x Time Under Tension”

This is the most important equation in bodybuilding. Building muscle mass is all about the amount of weight you are lifting and how long your sets last.

Many old-school bodybuilders like Justin Harris know the importance of lifting heavy weights for high reps to maximize the load and time under tension of their sets.

Here is a great video of Justin squatting 500 pounds for 16 reps. Check it out:

Talk about a huge squat! If you can lift heavy weights for high reps like Justin Harris then your body will have no choice but to grow. There is no other way!

So how much time under tension should you use during your sets? In other words, how long should your sets last if you want to build maximum muscle mass?

Here is what you need to know:

The Best Time Under Tension For Different Goals

  • Strength = 1-20 seconds of time under tension
  • Hypertrophy = 20-70 seconds of time under tension
  • Endurance = 70+ seconds of time under tension

Let’s break this down.

If your goal is to build as much muscle mass as possible then most of your sets should take 20-70 seconds to complete. This is the “sweet spot” where you will be able to build the most muscle mass.

Sets in the 1-20 second range are great for overloading the fast-twitch muscle fibers and for getting stronger so you can use the progressive overload principle.

Sets lasting more than 70 seconds can also be used in some situations to jack up the total time under tension and stimulate more muscle growth.

For example many bodybuilders will use 2-minute leg presses to shock their legs into growth.

Before you can use time under tension in your workouts you need to understand the science of exercise tempo.

Exercise tempo tells you how fast to perform your reps and how low your sets last. Here is Charles Poliquin, the original gangster of exercise tempo giving a great overview of this topic. Check it out:

In this video Charles Poliquin says that if you don’t know your exercise tempo then you don’t know what you’re doing in the gym! Check it out:

“If you don’t measure your tempo then you really don’t know what you’re doing because you don’t have any concept of time under tension!

Eight reps performed explosively on the way up and on the way down will have a different training effect than if you pause at a certain point in the range of motion.”

Time under tension depends on your exercise tempo and the number of reps you perform.

For example if you perform 10 reps and each rep takes 2 seconds to complete then your time under tension is (10 x 2) = 20 seconds. On the other hand if you perform 10 reps and each rep takes 6 seconds to complete then your time under tension is (10 x 6) = 60 seconds.

Both of these sets have 10 reps but the time under tension is completely different which means the stimulus on your muscles is completely different.

If your goal is to build maximum muscle mass then you want most of your sets to have 20-70 seconds of time under tension.

Sets with 1-20 seconds of time under tension can also be helpful for building strength and applying the progressive overload principle while sets with up to 2 minutes of time under tension can be helpful for building muscle. 

In the rest of this guide I will show you how to blend together the progressive overload principle and the time under tension principle into your workouts to build maximum muscle mass.

Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this cutting edge information!

Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business… 

Part 1: Powerbuilding 

One of the easiest ways to use the progressive overload principle in your bodybuilding workouts is to use a powerbuilding training style.

The bodybuilding nutritionist Justin Harris says that powerbuilding is all about incorporating powerlifting training principles into your workouts so you can build size and strength at the same time. Check it out:

Justin Harris likes to organize his workouts so that he performs one heavy exercise early in the workout and several higher-rep bodybuilding style exercises later in the workout.

Justin says that this powerbuilding style approach gives him the best of both worlds.

He uses his first movement to build strength and functional hypertrophy and he uses the other exercises to accumulate more training volume and build bodybuilding-style hypertrophy.

The Mr. Olympia finalist Steve Kuclo is also a big fan of this approach. For example here is how Steve structures his chest workouts:

Steve Kuclo’s Typical Chest Workout

  • Exercise #1: Work up to 1-3 heavy sets of 4-8 reps
  • Exercises #2-5: Perform 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Steve starts his chest workouts with some type of heavy pressing exercise. This could be the incline bench press, incline dumbbell press or any other heavy compound movement.

Steve often incline presses 500+ pounds for 4-6 reps!

After his main heavy movement he performs a bunch of higher-rep pumping exercises to accumulate more time under tension and to really fatigue as many muscle fibers as possible.

Here is one of Steve Kuclo’s typical powerbuilding chest workouts. Check it out:

Steve Kuclo’s Chest Workout #1

  • Exercise A1: 30 degree incline DB press, 3 sets of 5-10 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise B1: Supine machine press (neutral grip), 3 sets of 10-12 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise C1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 3 sets of 10-12 reps, no rest
  • Exercise C2: Machine pec dec, 3 sets of 10-12 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise D1: Cable crossover (high pulley), 3 sets of 10-12 reps, no rest
  • Exercise D2: Cable crossover (mid pulley), 3 sets of 10-12 reps, 2 minutes rest

Here is the training video:

For this workout Steve works up to the 200 pound dumbbells!

Some experts try to argue that getting stronger isn’t important for building muscle mass. If that’s true then why is Steve lifting the 200 pound dumbbells? Why not stick with the 100 pound dumbbells or even the pink dumbbells if getting stronger isn’t important?

The truth is getting stronger is one way to stimulate muscle growth but using time under tension techniques like supersets is also helpful. Steve blends together both of these techniques in his powerbuilding workouts and it shows in his physique.

Larry Wheels is another athlete who really embodies the powerbuilding training style.

Larry Wheels spends about half the year training like a powerlifter and half the year training like a bodybuilder.

During his bodybuilding workouts he likes to perform 1 heavy compound exercise to build strength and several bodybuilding-style exercises to accumulate more time under tension and build muscle mass.

Here is one of Larry’s bodybuilding back workouts. Check it out:

Larry Wheel’s Bodybuilding Back Workout #1

  • Exercise #1: Barbell row (bounce on floor), 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Pull ups (narrow / neutral grip), 3 sets of AMRAP**
  • Exercise #4: Hammer strength low row, 3 sets of 10-15 reps

**Perform as many reps as you can with just your bodyweight

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout Larry Wheels performs barbell rows with an unbelievable 585 pounds for 5 reps! This is his main exercise for the day where he really tries to build strength and overload his fast-twitch muscle fibers.

After that he performs several different upper back exercises with higher reps and lots of time under tension.

This is Larry’s favorite way to train for bodybuilding and it shows in his physique – he has that “look of power” that you can only get from training with progressive overload.

Some bodybuilders like to perform these powerbuilding workouts in reverse: they perform their high-rep time under tension exercises early in the workout and finish with their heavy strength-focused exercise.

This is one of John Meadows’ favorite strategies. He often performs heavy deadlifts or rack deadlifts at the end of his workouts after his upper back has been pre-fatigued. Check it out:

John Meadows’ Pre-Exhaust Back Routine

  • Exercise #1: Machine pulldown (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • Exercise #2: Seated cable row (v-handle), 4 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • Exercise #3: Bilateral bent-over kettle bell row, 4 x 8, 1/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest
  • Exercise #4: Rack deadlift (just below knees), 3 x 5, 1/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • Exercise #5: Reverse hyperextension, 2 x 15, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout John performs lots of higher-rep exercise before getting to his heaviest exercise of the day: rack deadlifts.

John says that performing his heavy exercise later in the workout decreases his risk of injury and actually helps him build more muscle mass.

The bottom line is powerbuilding style workouts are a great way to use the progressive overload principle and the time under tension principle to build muscle mass.

Of course it is not the only way! There are many other strategies that we will cover like forced reps, cluster sets, eccentric training and giant sets.

Part 2: Forced Reps

A lot of bodybuilders never perform any lower-rep sets in their training. They would rather load up on dangerous “supplements” than use the progressive overload principle in their workouts to build muscle mass!

The truth is you don’t have to train with singles, doubles and triples to get stronger.

One of the best ways for bodybuilders to get stronger and increase the time under tension of their sets is to use forced reps.

Forced reps is a high-intensity technique where your training partner helps you perform 1-5 extra reps on an exercise after reaching muscle failure.

Here is Stan Efferding demonstrating the forced reps technique on the incline dumbbell press:

Stan Efferding Forced Reps

Stan performs 7 reps on his own followed by 4 extra reps with the help of his spotter. His spotter pushes up on Stan’s elbows so he can complete the extra 4 reps.

Forced reps are so effective because they overload the lowering phase of the exercise. This is called “eccentric training” and it puts a TON of tension on your muscles which is great for building strength gains.

Forced reps also increase the time under tension of your sets which helps you build muscle mass. They are like the best of both worlds!

The truth is you can use forced reps with low-volume programs where you train with extremely heavy weights and high-volume programs where your rep ranges are much higher.

Dorian Yates is probably the king of forced reps training. Dorian performed forced reps on almost every exercise in the gym.

Here is Dorian’s chest workout. Check it out:

Dorian Yates Chest Workout

  • Exercise #1: 30 degree incline bench press, 1 working set of 5-8 reps to failure
  • Exercise #2: Flat machine press, 1 working set of 5-8 reps to failure**
  • Exercise #3: 30 degree incline DB fly, 1 working set of 7-10 reps to failure**
  • Exercise #4: Standing cable crossover, 1 working set of 7-10 reps to failure**

**Perform 1-3 forced reps with help from your training partner after reaching failure.

Here is the training video for this workout:

For each exercise he performed several warm up sets followed by 1 all-out working set to failure. On most exercises he also performed 1-3 forced reps after reaching failure.

Dorian says that these forced reps were so important because they helped him get stronger during his bodybuilding career. If he truly went all-out with the forced reps then he knew he would be stronger at his next workout.

IFBB pro Chis Bumstead is also a huge fan of forced reps. Chris likes to perform all of his sets in the 8-15 rep range.

This is a little too high to build strength and overload the fast-twitch muscle fibers so he uses forced reps to cover his bases.

Here is a typical Chris Bumstead chest workout. Check it out:

Chris Bumstead Chest Workout #1

  • Exercise #1: 30 degree incline smith machine press, 3 sets of 8-15 reps**
  • Exercise #2: Flat hammer strength press, 3 sets of 8-15 reps**
  • Exercise #3: Flat machine press, 3 sets of 8-15 reps**
  • Exercise #4: Machine fly, 3 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #5: Dips, 3 sets of 8-15 reps

**Perform 3-5 forced reps on your last set after reaching muscular failure

Here is the training video for this workout:

Forced reps are obviously great for building strength but they are also incredible for accumulating more time under tension. Chris sometimes performs as much as 15 regular reps followed by 5 extra forced reps for his chest exercises. That is 20 reps in a row!

If each rep takes 2-3 seconds to complete then Chris is getting 40-60 seconds of time under tension! This is right where you want to be if your goal is building maximum muscle mass. 

Here is one of Chris Bumstead’s arm workouts where he uses the forced reps technique on almost every exercise. Check it out:

Chris Bumstead’s Mr. Olympia Arm Workout #2

Triceps Routine

  • Exercise #1: Rope cable pushdown, 3 sets of 10-15 reps**
  • Exercise #2: 30 degree incline skull crusher (bar behind head), 3 sets of 10-15 reps**
  • Exercise #3: Hammer strength dips, 3 sets of 10-15 reps

Biceps Routine

  • Exercise #4: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3 sets of 10-15 reps****
  • Exercise #5: 80 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Exercise #6: Standing ez-bar curls (wide / supinated grip), 3 sets of 10-15 reps**

**Perform 3-5 forced reps after reaching muscular failure.

****Perform 10 partial reps in the top position with the help of a training partner after reaching failure.

Here is the training video for this workout:

As you can see Chris Bumstead is a huge proponent of the forced rep technique.

It is one of the best training methods you can use to build muscle mass if you have access to a training partner. 

Part 3: Cluster Sets

Cluster sets are a training method where you take short rest periods in between the reps of your sets. They can be used to build muscle mass or strength depending on your goals.

However, the main reason they work so well is they increase the time under tension of your set and help you get more reps with a relatively heavy weight.

In other words cluster sets combine the progressive overload principle and the time under tension principle into one training method!

The most famous cluster set protocol is the Poliquin cluster set. You perform 5 reps with 10-20 seconds rest in between each rep. For example:

The Poliquin Cluster Sets Training Protocol

  • Step #1: Perform your 1st rep, then rest 10-20 seconds
  • Step #2: Perform your 2nd rep, then rest 10-20 seconds
  • Step #3: Perform your 3rd rep, then rest 10-20 seconds
  • Step #4: Perform your 4th rep, then rest 10-20 seconds
  • Step #5: Perform your 5th rep, then rest 3-5 minutes and repeat!

Here is the training video for this method:

Charles Poliquin likes this cluster set protocol because it lets you perform 5 reps with your 3-rep max. This means you are putting a huge amount of time under tension on your fast-twitch muscle fibers!

In fact Charles Poliquin says that his cluster set protocol is the best training method in the world for building strength.

Here is what a Poliquin cluster set arm workout could look like. Check it out:

Poliquin Cluster Sets Routine

  • A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 5 x 5**, 3/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A2: Preacher curl (wide / supinated grip), 5 x 5**, 3/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: One-arm cable rope french press, 3 x 6-8, 5/0/1/0, 45 seconds
  • B2: 60 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0****, 45 seconds rest

**Performed as a Poliquin-style cluster set. Rest 10 seconds in between each rep.

****Perform a 2-second isometric pause at 30 degrees elbow flexion on the lifting phase of each rep. This will increase recruitment of the brachialis muscle.

There are also ways to use cluster sets to build muscle mass. One of the best methods is called the rest-pause method.

The rest-pause method is a high-intensity bodybuilding technique where you train to failure 3 times in a row on an exercise with only 20-30 seconds rest in between sets. Check it out:

The Rest-Pause Method

  • Step #1: Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range, then rest 20-30 seconds
  • Step #2: Train to failure again with the same weight, then rest 20-30 seconds
  • Step #3: Train to failure again with the same weight, done!

Here is Dusty Hanshaw giving a perfect demonstration of the rest-pause set:

Rest-pause sets are so effective because they prolong the time under tension of the set in a way that helps you get stronger.

The three separate attempts with the same weight overloads your central nervous system in a way that is similar to the Poliquin-style cluster sets. However, the total time under tension of the set is also extremely high.

Rest-pause sets are like the best of both worlds: progressive overload training and time under tension training!

Rest-pause sets can be used with lower-volume strength workouts and higher-volume bodybuilding workouts depending on your goals.

Here is a high-volume chest workout that Dusty Hanshaw performed using rest-pause sets. Check it out:

Dusty Hanshaw High-Volume Chest Workout

  • Exercise #1: 30 degree incline bench press, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #2: Machine pec dec, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #3: Decline hammer strength press, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #4: Flat DB press, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #5: DB fly extreme stretch, 1 x 60-90 seconds

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Aim for 11-20 total reps across your 3 mini-sets.

****Perform 3-5 extra forced reps after reaching failure.

Here is the training video for this workout:

Rest-pause sets are a powerful training method but they are also very difficult to recover from. If you are more of a high-volume kind of guy then hypertrophy specific cluster sets are probably a better option.

Josh Bryant invented hypertrophy specific cluster sets as a way for bodybuilders to perform a HUGE number of reps with a reasonably heavy weight.

Your goal is to perform as many sets of 4-6 as you can in a 5-minute time period. The key is you use your 10-15 rep max and you rest for 10-15 seconds in between each set. Check it out:

Hypertrophy specific cluster set protocol

  • Step #1: Perform 1 set of 4-6 reps, then rest 10-15 seconds
  • Step #2: Perform another set of 4-6 reps, then rest 10-15 seconds
  • Step #3: Perform another set of 4-6 reps, then rest 10-15 seconds

And so on. You just keep performing sets of 4-6 reps until the 5-minute time period is up.

Here is a perfect example of hypertrophy specific cluster sets in action:

Hypertrophy specific cluster sets are so effective because you are performing a HUGE number of reps with a moderately heavy weight.

Josh says that you could easily perform 50 reps with your 10-rep max in a 5 minute time window. All those extra reps jack up the time under tension of your sets to build tons of muscle mass.

This method is not the best for getting stronger but the weight is still relatively heavy so you won’t get any weaker, either.

Josh likes to pick a body part and perform 3-5 of these hypertrophy specific cluster sets for a short but effective workout. Here is a sample shoulder workout you could try. Check it out:

Shoulders Hypertrophy-Specific Cluster Sets Workout

  • Exercise #1: Machine lateral raise, sets of 6**, 15 seconds rest
  • Exercise #2: Reverse pec dec, sets of 6**, 15 seconds rest
  • Exercise #3: Hammer strength overhead press, sets of 6**, 15 seconds rest
  • Exercise #4: Bent-over reverse DB fly (30 degree bench), sets of 6**, 15 seconds rest

**Perform sets of 6 reps for 5 minutes straight with 15 seconds rest in between each set. Use a weight you can lift approximately 15 times.

Here is the training video for this workout:

As you can see there are tons of different ways to design a cluster set workout.

Guys like Charles Poliquin and Josh Bryant use cluster sets because they are a great way to use the progressive overload principle and the time under tension principle to build muscle mass.

If you are a “pump artist” then maybe it’s time to give one of these cluster set protocols a shot. I think you will be shocked at how well they help you build strength and muscle mass at the same time. 

Part 4: Eccentric Training

When I think of eccentric training I think of the world-class bodybuilding coach Josh Bryant. He uses different forms of eccentric training with all of his elite bodybuilders and it really shows in their physiques.

Research shows that the eccentric or lowering phase of an exercise is where most of the strength and size gains come from.

You can build muscle mass and strength much faster if you use techniques where you overload the lowering phase of your exercises.

These techniques usually include slow negative phases so eccentric training gives you the best of both worlds: extremely heavy weights AND extremely high time under tension! What more can you ask for?

One of Josh Bryant’s favorite eccentric training strategies is the 5-second lowering phase. Here is the legendary bodybuilder Branch Warren demonstrating this technique on t-bar rows:

Branch Warren 5-Second Negatives

Josh Bryant says the main benefit of the 5-second negative is it increases the time under tension of your set.

Your reps will probably take 6 seconds to complete so a 10-rep set now has 60 seconds of time under tension! Check it out:

“Time under tension is one of the most important variables for muscle growth. You look at a lot of top people and that’s one of the things that’s missing.

Their average sets might take 10 seconds to complete whereas I’ll use 20 seconds and sometimes up to 60 seconds per set.

That adds a whole new dimension to building muscle and totally shocks your body into growth.”

The 5-second negative is a great technique for anyone who is new to eccentric training. If you are a more advanced bodybuilder then there are many other strategies that you can try.

Here is an eccentric-focused leg workout that Josh designed to build maximum muscle mass. It uses 4 different eccentric training strategies to absolutely destroy every muscle fiber in your legs. Check it out:

Josh Bryant Romanian Deadlift Routine

  • Exercise #1: Romanian deadlift with bands, 4 sets of 6-12 reps**
  • Exercise #2: Lying leg curl, 4 sets of 6-12 reps**
  • Exercise #3: Machine squat, 4 sets of 6-12 reps****
  • Exercise #4: Hatfield squat, 4 sets of 6-12 reps

**Perform each rep with a 5-second lowering phase.

****Performed using the 2/1 method. Lift the weight with 2 legs and slowly lower the weight down with 1 leg. Perform 6-12 reps on one leg, then 6-12 reps on the other leg. This counts as 1 set.

******Perform 3 separate 3-second isometric pauses on the eccentric range of each rep.

This is a really intense workout by Josh Bryant and there is a LOT of ground to cover here!

For the first exercise you are going to perform Romanian deadlifts with bands. The bands create a ton of eccentric stress on your muscles because they are pulling the bar down to the ground faster than the speed of gravity.

To make things even harder you have to perform a 5-second lowering phase on each rep.

For the second exercise you are using the 2/1 method: you lift the weight up with 2 legs and lower it back down with 1 leg using a 5-second negative phase. This lets you really overload your hamstrings with a heavy weight and tons of time under tension.

For the third exercise you are going to perform machine squats with 3 isometric pauses during the eccentric range. You pause in 3 different places for 3 seconds on the lowering phase of each rep.

If you perform this correctly then it will take you more than 10 seconds to perform each rep!

Finally you finish the workout with Hatfield overload squats. To perform this exercise you use a safety squat bar and you hold onto the upright posts of a power rack.

You actually use your arms to help pull you up through the concentric phase of the exercise. This lets you eccentrically overload your quads with a heavier than normal weight.

All 4 of these techniques are great for increasing the time under tension of your sets and creating more eccentric stress on your muscles. However, if you are truly serious about using eccentric training then you have to try weight releasers. Check it out:

Bench Press Weight Releasers

Weight releasers are giant metal hooks that attach on either side of the barbell. These hooks make the lowering phase of the exercise harder but the drop off the bar in the bottom position so you only lift the bar back up to lockout.

In other words weight releasers let you overload the lowering phase of the exercise!

Josh Bryant says you should use weight releasers for single repetitions with a 10-second lowering phase. This ultra-slow tempo will make the exercise more effective and decrease your risk of injury.

The bottom line is eccentric training is one of the best tools you can use for building muscle mass. Eccentric training kills 2 birds with one stone: it helps you build strength and it dramatically increases the time under tension of your sets.

Progressive overload and time under tension don’t have to be opposites from one another! Eccentric training gives you the best of both worlds.

Part 5: Giant Sets

Giant sets are the “apex predator” of time under tension techniques!

When I say giant sets I am really talking about three different training methods: supersets, tri-sets and giant sets. These are training methods where you perform 2 or more exercises in a row for the same muscle group with 10 seconds rest between exercises.

Giant sets are so effective because they double, triple or even quadruple the time under tension of your sets. This creates a powerful stimulus for muscular hypertrophy.

Here is a simple superset routine you can try for your triceps. Check it out:

Superset Triceps Workout

  • A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3 x 6, 1/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Tri-set triceps extension**, 3 x 30, 1/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest

**Perform 1 rep of neutral grip dumbbell presses, 1 rep of lying triceps extensions, then 1 rep of pullover triceps extensions. Repeat until you perform 10 of each type of rep.

Here is the training video for this workout:

A superset is a training method where you perform 2 or more exercises in a row for the same muscle group. For this routine you are supersetting v-bar dips for 6 reps and lying dumbbell extensions for 30 reps.

This is a nasty combination! The first exercise overloads your fast-twitch muscle fibers and helps you build strength while the second exercise jacks up the time under tension to damage more muscle fibers and stimulate more growth.

Here is another tri-set where Josh Bryant performs 3 completely different rep ranges for each exercise to thrash as many muscle fibers as possible. Check it out:

Josh Bryant Upper Back Giant Set

  • A1: T-bar row, 5 x 5, 5/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Seal DB row, 5 x 8, 1/0/1/1, 10 seconds res
  • A3: Dual-handle cable pulldown (wide grip), 5 x 40, 1/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest

Here is the training video for this workout

For this routine you are performing sets of 5, 8 and 40 reps on your three different exercises. This is a tremendous way to stimulate more muscular hypertrophy by maximizing the total time under tension for your muscles.

If you are really creative then there are ways to combine tri-sets with the progressive overload principle to really overload your fast-twitch muscle fibers. Here is one example. Check it out:

Josh Bryant’s Iso-Dynamic Tri-Set For The Triceps

  • A1: Close grip bench press overcoming isometric***, 3 x 6 second hold, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Bench press against bands (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 3, 1/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Decline DB extension, 3 x 10, 5/0/1/0, 4 minutes rest

***Perform an overcoming isometric with an empty barbell. The pins should be set up 2 inches below lockout in a power rack.

Here is a video of Josh Bryant demonstrating this routine:

Josh Bryant calls this routine “iso-dynamics” because you are combining isometric training with more traditional dynamic exercises with a full range of motion.

For the first exercise you are performing a 6-second isometric bench press for your triceps.

Your goal is to press an empty barbell into a pair of safety pins set 2 inches below lockout as hard as you can for 6 seconds. Your goal is to break the safety pins in half!

This technique is awesome for teaching your body to recruit more fast-twitch muscle fibers.

To complete the tri-set you perform close grip bench presses against bands and decline dumbbell extensions with a 5-second lowering phase. This is an incredible way to combine the progressive overload principle with a huge amount of time under tension to stimulate size and strength gains.

If you are truly serious about maximizing the time under tension of your sets then you have to give giant sets a try.

Giant sets is a training method where you perform 4 or more exercises in a row for the same body part with 10 seconds rest between exercises.

It’s hard to use the progressive overload principle with giant sets but they are INCREDIBLE for building muscle and extending the time under tension of your sets.

The bodybuilding coach Milos Sarcev likes them so much that he uses them exclusively with his professional bodybuilding clients.

Here is Milos Sarcev answering the question, why giant sets?

“What is the most intense training method? What is maximal muscle fiber stimulation? If you are truly honest with yourself the answer is giant sets!”

Here is a sample giant sets back routine that you could try. Check it out:

Milos Sarcev Back Width / Thickness Giant Set Routine

  • A1: T-bar row, 1 x 10, no rest
  • A2: Rack deadlift (just below knees), 1 x 10, no rest
  • A3: Standing barbell shrug, 1 x 10, no rest
  • A4: Machine pulldown (wide / neutral grip), 1 x 10, no rest
  • A5: Trap-bar row, 1 x 10, no rest
  • A6: Lying DB pullover, 1 x 10, no rest
  • A7: Cable pulldown (medium / neutral grip), 1 x 10, no rest
  • A8: Cable pulldown (narrow / pronated grip), 1 x 10, no rest
  • A9: Machine pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 1 x 10, no rest
  • A10: Seated cable row (narrow / neutral grip), 1 x 20, 3-5 minutes rest

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout you are going to perform 10 different exercises in a row for your upper back.

If each set takes about 20 seconds to complete then this giant set will have 3 minutes 20 seconds of time under tension. Now THAT is a lot of time under tension!

If your upper back doesn’t grow from this routine then you might as well quit lifting weights and take up ping pong!

The bottom line is supersets, tri-sets and giant sets are 3 awesome strategies for increasing the time under tension of your sets.

If you are creative enough you can even find ways to use the progressive overload principle with these methods to build size and strength at the same time. This is a favorite strategy of the bodybuilding coach Josh Bryant.

Conclusion

If you want to build maximum muscle mass then you have to use progressive overload AND time under tension in your workouts. One is not more important than the other!

In this guide I showed you 5 awesome ways to use both of these training principles in your workouts. Strategies like powerbuilding workouts, forced reps, cluster sets, eccentric training and giant sets all give you the chance to train with heavy weights and lots of time under tension in the same workout.

Remember, you don’t have to be married to one particular training style. If your motto is “go heavy or go home” then you can build a ton of size just by incorporating more time under tension techniques like the 5-second negative phase or tri-sets.

On the other hand if you rely on the pink dumbbells for your gains then you can build a ton of muscle by going after more strength gains with techniques like forced reps and more powerbuilding-style workouts.

Here is one more quote by Josh Bryant to help you become a more enlightened bodybuilder:

“Bodybuilding circles usually encompass 2 kinds of circles: go heavy or go home, or the ones that just want to worship the almighty pump. To fully maximize your physique you have to use a holistic approach.

This is not dating. You do not have to be exclusive to either one of these camps. You can use high reps, low reps, fast tempos, slow tempos and so on for a holistic approach.

To build your best physique the 1980’s played-out “3 sets of 10” ain’t going to cut the mustard!”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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