Many of us walk into the gym and bang out as many reps as possible with no regard for the time it takes us to do so. In our fast paced lives with internet, phones, and email we have been conditioned to operate fast. However taking an opposite approach in the gym may be beneficial to help gain muscle and strength.
There has been research done on the effectiveness of tempo training. Current research supports that a slow eccentric contraction in order to fatigue the greatest number of muscle fibers is most effective for muscle hypertrophy. So what is tempo you ask? Tempo is the speed at which each rep of each exercise will be performed. Usually when tempo is expressed in a workout program it is expressed in a 4 number pattern (ex: 3010) each number represents a different action in the lift. In this case the “3” represents the time in which it should take in seconds in the eccentric portion of the lift, the first 0 represents a pause at the bottom of the rep, the 1 is the time it should take to move the weight concentrically, and finally the last 0 represents the pause at the top. So when following this tempo each rep should take approximately 4 seconds total to complete.
Various tempos are being utilized by strength training professionals today in order to increase muscle power, endurance, and hypertrophy. Evidence suggests that in order to maximize hypertrophy in muscles each muscle fiber needs to be fatigued and then repaired. Since there are different types of fibers in the muscle body EX: Type 1; Type 2a/b each of these types of fibers requires a different length of time to fatigue. Utilizing the correct tempo will result in the correct training effect.
What Tempo Should I Train At?
This is going to depend on what you wish to achieve through your training. For instance if we are training for power the tempo is going to be quick, however muscular endurance may require a slower more controlled tempo. This leads me to another factor that should be considered when implementing tempo, Time under Tension (TUT) this refers to the amount of time that the muscle is being used during a set. Different TUT guidelines can be used to put you in the ball park for specific training goals. The TUT you utilize will depends on your training goal and is dictated by your training tempo. Underneath is a simple chart that will give you a basic idea of different goals and the sets/reps/tut each require for each training goal. Remember these are guidelines and should serve as a rough framework for your programming.
Workout VariablesStrength/PowerHypertrophyEnduranceSets (min – max)1–42–51–3Reps (min – max)1–88–1415–25Time under Tension4–30sec30–60sec60–100secRest between sets2–4min1–2min30sec–1minRest between workouts48–72hrs48–72hrs24–72hrs
When figuring out TUT you take the amount of time it takes to perform a rep x number of reps (ex. 8 reps 4010 tempo = (8×4)+(8×1) = 40sec TUT). Through the utilization of slower tempos it is possible to fatigue all types of muscle fibers and force them to grow as more motor units will be recruited as faster fatiguing fibers tire.
Therefore performing a barbell bench press, with a tempo of 10-0-1-0 for 4 reps would result in a 44second tempo and would be promoting more of a muscle gaining effect. Whereas performing a barbell bench press with a 1010 tempo for 4 reps would give a tempo of 8total seconds and permit itself to train more strength / power.
Just changing the tempo for the amount of reps that you are performing can have a drastic change on the training effect you receive. This is one more weapon in your arsenal when trying to optimize your training.
Give tempos a try in your next session and let me know how it feels.