Time under tension

How much can you bend and stretch before you break?

This thought came to me when I was in a reformer pilates class recently (shoutout to Fontaine at Heartcore St Johns Wood for an epic class). In this particular class we happened to be playing a lot with tempo- i.e time under tension.

Playing with tempo and tension is one of my favourite ways to change up a work out. Typically, most movements would be performed at a 1:2:1:2 tempo- i.e 2 seconds to go down, slight pause, 2 seconds to come up. But think about it- if you changed that to being 4:2:4:1 you're forcing your muscles to behave differently.

One of the basic principles of exercise is that we're forcing our bodies to change by applying a certain amount of pressure onto the muscle fibres, causing them stress. This stress, ideally, causes them to break, and to repair themselves better and stronger than they were before. Thusly, increasing the breaking point and inherently, contributing to an overarching increase in strength/flexibility etc.

But what about when we take that point of tension too far? Something will snap.

In exercise, this is easy to spot- an injury. A physical manifestation of the problem. Often times something with a clear cause, and something that can be repaired through work and over time. What happens when it's not physical? When we've reached our mental or emotional breaking point?

A few weeks back, I'd had enough. And I said so to my boss. I said that if I were to continue performing at the level that I was performing, I couldn't keep juggling the 1000 spinning plates in the air- I could feel that they were starting to slip and the last thing I wanted was for them all to come crashing down around me at the same time.

What I found really interesting about this discussion, was not only the shock in my bosses face, but the shock in people around me.

I was told I was brave, that I was doing something that not many people would have done.

And still, a few weeks after the fact, this shocks me. When we're at the gym and our muscles start to twinge past the point of 'comfortable discomfort' we stop. We'll call over the instructor and chat about alternatives, lower the levels ourselves, or simply take a breather.

So why in the workplace do we not do these things? Why is there this constant need to keep going. Workplaces have such a push for mental health and wellbeing, but how much of this is actually implemented on the ground? There's such a high level of pressure on your 'worker bees', but the Queen can make £5000 mistakes and no one bats an eyelid.

Now that I'm line managing someone, I make a concerted effort to check in with her, see how she's going, make sure that she's at a level where she's not overtly stressed and flustered. A level where there's room to breathe and grow. At the same time, I can see how incredibly easy it is to just pile on things onto someone else, when your own plate is simply overflowing.

But I think that businesses need to be mindful of how much time under tension their employees are spending. Furthermore, I think we as individuals need to be mindful of our time under tension. Because at the end of the day, if you keep breaking something, after a while, each repair is going to completely change the original.

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