In strength training, time under tension refers to how long you spend putting muscular effort into an exercise.
Lets think about a simple exercise like the shoulder press.
Holding the load on your shoulders in not extremely difficult. Holding the load over your head is not extremely difficult. It’s that f*cking middle part.
But, it turns out, that middle part is where all the magic happens. In fact, the more time you spend in the middle without freaking out and dropping the bar, the stronger you will get.
Now as a weightlifter, I have some tricks up my sleeve for minimizing the middle part. One is the push press where I use my legs to speed up the bar and my arms spend as little time under tension as possible. The other trick is the jerk where I use my legs twice in successions to avoid ALL time under tension.
While this is fun and allows me to perform awe-inspiring, remarkable feats, if I always use the push press or the jerk to get the weight over my head, my shoulder press strength will actually drop SIGNIFICANTLY.
If my goal is to just get it done, I use tricks. But if my goal is to develop strength over the long term, I’m going to need that time under tension.
Tricks are great. Until you need strength.
We learn some tricks in recovery. We learn ways of thinking or ways to avoid thinking that keep us from experiencing negative emotions. I’ve learned how to properly rectify mistakes, repair relationships, and steer clear old behaviors that brought about a lot of pain.
But sometimes there is lag time between when we notice a negative emotion, and when it goes away. We try everything we know, and we can’t get rid of that tension. We do our “tricks” but they aren’t working. We feel stuck in that f*cking middle part. It’s ok. Don’t freak out. Don’t drop the bar. That’s just what getting stronger feels like.