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Time Under Tension

“Train like a motherfucker for 10 years, no breaks, no bullshit, nothing but you and the bar, the rack and some chalk!

Once you do this, you’ll be able to read most things about training and realize if they’re full of shit or not. You’ll see people widely regarded as experts as the charlatans that they really are. Without ever meeting the author, you’ll be able to tell if he or she actually has calluses or if they just hide behind a keyboard. It’s like this amazing veil of shit will be lifted from your eyes and everything will be clear.

Every once in a while you’ll lose track, but all you have to do look at someone’s shins and hands; do they look fucked up? Then listen to them.”

Creator of 5/3/1

Jim Wendler

I was perusing my Facebook the other day and got a notification that “On this day” in 2013, I competed in my first ever strongman contest. I looked through the photo album and videos in the same horror one would have looking through old year books. I was overweight, undertrained, and had zero idea of what the hell I was doing. My form sucked, I could have killed myself, and I was grunting and swearing more than anyone else. After the negative self-talk had ended, I realized that this was my beginning. I remember that day and how proud I was to be competing, as well as having a training partner there to document it. It was the first contest I have ever done, and I was on top of the world. I put forth the effort to make weight, train, and show up the day of and put in the work.

Fast forward to today and I am working on competing the third contestin the last year alone (Winter Wreckage 2.0 Training here!). I am stronger, smarter, more athletic, and have several years of personal development as well as professional guidance under my belt. I am leaps and bounds better off and more competitive than I could have ever imagined in my first contest. What changed? How did I get to this point? Time under tension.

Time under tension is a bodybuilding term used to describe the amount of time your muscles are under strain during your workout. The idea is that the greater the time under tension you have for a muscle, the stronger and larger the muscle will grow due to the stimulus put on it. It is quite a simple concept. Same holds true for strongman. You see, strongman has a lot of events. Log press for reps or max weight. Stones ranging from all different sizes and weights needing to be lifted to all different heights for all different amount of time or reps. Medleys with sandbags, Husafel stones, kegs, truck pulls, tires, chain drags, you name it and there will be a medley for it. There are countless events contests can pick. It is easy to get overwhelmed if you are trying to perfect the technique for one event, let alone all the other possible events you will have to do as well. It is easy to focus on the small details when it comes to training and not the big picture. This is where time under tension comes into play because that is what builds up your skills and your experience. It is not a perfect program, or a perfect rep scheme that makes you great. It is the constant time under tension of you performing and training your events. Taking the weeks, months and years needed to truly hone your skills. Do you suck at atlas stones? Take the next year to do them every week and I promise that you will get better. It is inevitable because with such a large amount of time under tension, you will pick up technique ques and get stronger through the consistent stimulus. Log press giving you a hard time? Build up your shoulders, back, and arm strength as well as work on your technique week in and week out and you will see improvements. That is something I can promise.

530 from 16 Inches on left...565 from the floor on the right.

The bottom line with this sort of thinking is that in order for you to grow, you need to spend a certain amount of time performing your craft or skill. This is the tension that you need. Being able to grow and develop as an athlete or a human being requires you to spend time being uncomfortable. That is why a lot of people are looking for the quick way out when it comes to training. Training is hard, and at first we are bad at it, but as time goes on, the time under tension builds and builds and you develop new skills or muscles or strengths that you did not know you were capable of. The body is a very adaptable machine if you treat it how it is supposed to work.

I know that for me personally, I spend a lot of time looking forward at my goals, and constantly keep trying to get better, stronger, and faster. It is the mind of a competitor. We get bogged down if we have a bad few workouts and we think that our efforts are not helping. That simply isn’t the case because if you take the time to remember what it was like the first day your started, and you look at the weights or reps you are “struggling” with now, you will realized that a “bad day” today was unreachable milestone back then. You can thank your work ethic and the time under tension you put yourself through to get there. Give yourself a break, at least for a little bit.

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Sam Brown CPT (

Certified Underground Strength Coach

Certified Personal Trainer

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