Time Under Tension Training: The Armor Building Complex

Time under tension armor building complex

The concept of time under tension revolves around lifting a certain weight (or your own) slowly or in a timed manner with the intent of increasing muscle size. You bench-press up for 2 second, 3-4 seconds to get it back down again. You squat down for 4 seconds, you squat back up for 4 seconds. In a push up, you get down and count 2 seconds and push up for 2 seconds. It’s more technical than that but the idea is you maximize muscle engagement with each rep you make (and each rep that counts).

When it comes to kettlebell training, there are plenty of workouts you can use time under tension with. Some of them include variations of pressing and squatting but admittedly, these exercises (and some of their variations) are either boring or not as effective when compared to their barbell counterparts. Since the original intent of time under tension is to build muscle, and burn fat as a side effect, there is this one popular kettlebell complex that revolves around the same idea: Dan John’s Armor Building Complex.

The Armor Building Complex (Again?!)

Okay, okay. If you’ve been reading a few of my kettlebell articles, you might say “you’re praising this one complex too much!” To be honest, the ABC is my personal go-to kettlebell complex if I don’t want to do anything else. Why? Because it just works.

You get the hip hinge, the upper body lift, and the lower body tension all in one non-fatiguing set. You get to train all major muscle groups in one go for as many times as you like. You can literally do the ABC nonstop (with decent rest time in between sets) for maybe a whole hour and you won’t feel the need to catch your breath. I personally did this complex for 30 minutes straight with not more than 1m30s rest in between and I just felt good.

I personally think the ABC is the perfect kettlebell complex to apply time under tension with but I’m not suggesting you press, squat, or even clean slowly (a slow clean just isn’t possible). No, what I aim to achieve is increasing the load time also known as Time Under Load. How do you apply this on the ABC? Simple: you double up per set.

One set of ABC looks like this:

2 x db clean

1 x db military press

3 x db front squat

Rest.

What I want you to do is to repeat the same set twice before setting the bell down like:

2 x db clean

1 x db military press

3 x db front squat

2 x db clean

1 x db military press

3 x db front squat

Rest.

I know what you’re thinking: Why not just double up per exercise? Surely, the results of doing six squats in one go is the same as doing three squats twice.

The answer to that is yes, you may very well can just do six straight squats and get the same results but I’m sure you would need more rest time in between specially because kettlebell cleans can induce fatigue pretty fast much like swings. Their ballistic nature isn’t exactly energy-efficient so to speak and this is why we love swings and cleans when we want to burn calories.

Let’s say you use a pair of 24 kgs or a pair of 53 lbs. kettlebells. When it comes to total load per set, which amounts to 576 kg or 1272 lbs., they’re the same. What’s different is the energy used per set and you can bet you’ll burn out quicker repeating the same exercise than if you were to have some variety in between.

With each exercise being different from the last, you allow some of your muscles to rest while the bulk of the work gets transferred to the other muscles for the next exercise. This enables you to perform more sets in a given amount of time. The focus is not to tire yourself out as fast as possible but to get the most out of your training time by training in a well-paced manner. Time. Under. Load.

Recommended workout

For 20 minutes, using a mid weight kettlebell (or a weight you can double press four times in one go), you can start by getting 5 sets in under 12 minutes. You can then choose to press on until time is up (aim for quality sets), go back to the normal ABC, or perform a new exercise altogether. The target for now is to get 5 sets in under 10 minutes. It’s a lot harder than it looks but very doable.As you progress, aim for time divisible by the max number of sets you do i.e. 6 sets in 12 mins, 7 sets in 14 mins, etc. The challenge is go all the way up to 10 sets in under 20 minutes.

Personally, the most I got with a pair of 28’s is 7 sets at 17-18 minutes and by then I just did push ups until time was up. I could still do more but I needed more rest time. If you manage to go all the way to 10 sets with a pair of 24’s/53’s, you’re looking at a whopping 5,760 kg or 12,720 lbs. total weight lifted under 20 minutes. I’m just not sure if you’ll still have arms or legs after this but I’m pretty sure the body will reward you with a lot of muscle mass in return. You’ll also get stronger, have better stamina, and dramatically increase your body’s fat burning efficiency.

Just remember to have a rest day in between as recovery is just as important as training when it comes to muscle hypertrophy.

Robert James
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Robert James

Food Scientist. Fitness and Health Aficionado. Investor. Writer.

He likes to tell people how to grow their money and how to naturally lose body fat. He owns Fit and Write, a website catered to his passion to write about health and fitness. His main weapon against weakness is the kettlebell.
Robert James
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