Time Under Tension – The Secret Sauce of Strength
A lot of people see the “cool” stuff I do as a kettlebell instructor and want to dive right into the heavy weights.
There’s nothing wrong with that; lifting, swinging, and pressing heavy weight is a damn good time – and gets you pretty damn strong in the process.
I’ve done a good amount of swings and getups. Between Simple and Sinister, the StrongFirst Level 1 cert, and my SFG level 1 training program – it’s save to say I’ve done well over 20,000 swings and close to 2,000 getups… just in the past 6 months!
I suppose you could liken those numbers to what some fitness biz professionals call “coaching hours” – 10,000 being the “magic number.”
While I can’t tell you what the exact number of swings and getups is that said person needs to do in order to be considered an “expert”, I can say that regardless of where you fall in the aforementioned numbers you’ll need the following:
- Tension Strategies
- Sound Technique
- Breath Control
If you can do all of that, training with bells will not only get you stronger, but will also likely teach you some valuable life lessons.
Today I wanted to talk about something my good friend and colleague, Grant Anderson SFG 1, and I were discussing the other day – something we called the “secret sauce” of strength.
Lessons From Simple and Sinister
First a little background on Grant – he’s an animal!
Look him up in the dictionary as “Grantimal” and you’ll likely see a picture of a bear ripping the heads off a salmon in both hands while holding the bottom of a pistol squat – seriously the dudes strong.
What you might not know is that while Grant has always been a beast (as long as I’ve known him) he just recently started “playing” with some seriously beastly bells. He got there by consistent application of Simple and Sinister (100 1-hand swings/10 getups).
Watching him progress from a 32kg to now swinging the beast with ease is what motivated me to tackle my own program: 21-weeks of Simple and Sinister.
When you dedicate yourself to a training program that requires:
You inevitably find yourself learning a lot more than anticipated.
In a previous article I talked about The Art of Tension, The Skill of Strength. The concept is something small, yet powerful, which allows the user to squeeze out a little extra strength here, a little extra “omph” there. The end result? Success – or sometimes a lesson to be learned. There’s never a “fail” so long as you approach each session with an open-mind and the same dedication, persistence, and patience.
To give a brief background on my Simple and Sinister training program, the progression looks like this:
- Week 1: add 1 round (5 rounds total) of the heavier bell
- Week 2: repeat week 1
- Week 3: add 2 rounds of the heavier bell
- Week 4: repeat week 3
And so on and so forth…
Around week 3-4 I’ve noticed start feeling as if the bell I’m doing the bulk of my sets with is all of a sudden feeling pretty manageable – sometimes even “light.”
And here is where Grant and I discovered the “Secret Sauce” – what to do at those moments!
TUL stands for Time Under Load.
TUT stands for Time Under Tension – they’re essentially one in the same.
For those who don’t train with bells, it’s probably easiest to correlate this concept to a set of bench press – because that’s really the only lift that matters, right?
A good set on the bench press – we’ll say 8 reps with a 1-2-second pause at the bottom of each rep followed by a hard lockout at the top – should take roughly 30 seconds to complete. This would be considered to have a TUT of 30 seconds.
If you take a look at the get-up, 1 rep of the getup on just one arm should take roughly 30-45 seconds to complete – and you still have the other arm to do – which means a full set 1/1 on each side will take anywhere from a minute to a minute and a half to complete!
That’s the equivalent of 16-24 reps on the bench press! So essentially, longer time = longer “reps.”
I talk a lot to my clients about “fighting force with force”, or “tension with tension.” A 32kg bell is always going to be 32kg the same way a 48kg bell is always going to be a 48kg bell – it’s going to force, force upon you – it’s up to you to fight back.
The only way you stand a chance in fighting back, and winning, is to create mounds of force yourself. This embodies what StrongFirst is all about in regards to training with the hardstyle method – a balance of tension and relaxation – the winning formula for strength and performance alike.
When The Going Gets Tough – You Get Stronger
A competitive athlete knows that moment, the moment when “sh** gets real.” At that point in time you’re either going to:
- Dial in with laser-sharp focus
- Kick it into an extra gear, and beat this thing, or
- You’re going to give in to defeat.
For me, when I do a getup with a 48kg – sh** gets real fast – a 32kg, not so much.
Here is where the secret sauce can be tapped into…
Don’t be the person who considers their reps with the lighter bell a break – you’ll miss out on opportunities to gain some serious strength, rather challenge yourself!
Ask yourself, “How can this bell challenge me more, demand more focus, and get more in return?”
The answer is TUT/TUL – the “Secret Sauce.”
Find ways to make sh** get real with a moderately heavy bell
There a few ways one can do this but the underlying principal is the same – create more time under tension.
Finding And Using The Secret Sauce
It should go without saying that before you dive into any of the next few options, that you first:
Master the art of the swing and getup in the first place – you have no business attempting to perform a getup into a bent press if your getup still needs work, OR, if you have no clue how to perform a bent press in the first place.
The easiest method in increasing the TUT would be to simply – create more tension!
Tension is a voluntary act of strength – some movements and/or positions will naturally trigger the activation of tension, primarily as a protective mechanism for the body – you have the ability to voluntarily create MORE tension.
- Crush the handle of the bell
- Drive through your armpit in the support arm
- Fully extend the loaded arm through the elbow and triceps
Focusing on creating more tension can sometimes make a bell like the 32kg feel like a 24kg.
You can also challenge yourself to do the movement slower – for example a minute on the way up and a minute on the way down.
Here are some ways I’ve enjoyed playing around with TUT and tapping into the Secret Sauce.
Continuous reps – 2, 3, 4, and 5 all on one arm without stopping
Flows – These are probably the most fun;
- Getup to Windmill
- Getup to Bent Press
- Getup to Windmill for reps
- Getup to Bent Press for reps
- Getup to Windmill to Bent Press
You really are only limited by your imagination and skill level.
Holding Variations – Waiters Hold or Bottom’s Up are two of my favorites
Again, no matter what variation you choose, the principal is still the same – increase the TUT.
Those familiar with StrongFirst should begin to see a pattern here and perhaps why TUT is so effective in yielding strength:
High volume at a relatively moderate intensity
In other words – Easy Strength – the stuff works, it’s really as simple as that!
Putting It All Together
- Have fun
- Challenge yourself
- Master the basics first
That’s really it! If the notion of “tension” itself is new to you, play around with seeing just how much tension you can create while at the same time remaining relaxed through the neck, shoulders, and face.
Often times when you tell someone to dial up the tension the first thing that happens in a death-like bite, followed by squinted eyes and white-knuckles…
White-knuckle the hell out of it, but do so with a smile.
As you get better at creating tension you can start to play around with some flows and variations. At first you might start by doing a back-to-back rep. It sounds like a simple progression, but that extra rep – that extra TUT – makes a difference!
Check the form, maintain focus, and dial up the tension.
Again, the Secret Sauce can be what you make of it, have fun with it, be safe, and always,