Here’s a trivia question for you:
What is the one training principle you can use that will triple the effectiveness of your workouts?
‘Tempo” training, or varying how fast you raise and lower the weight.
The cool thing about it is that tempo training can be used to complete all training goals faster, including:
Improving body composition
Getting more powerful
Reducing injury risk
This article will give you seven rules for using tempo to maximize what you get out of your workouts.
Rule #1: Always count the tempo of exercises.
Varying the tempo of lifting phases and rest periods provides new stimulus for the body to adapt.
Your average person in the gym never pays the slightest attention to tempo and just lets gravity do the work for them. They let the weight fall and then use momentum to lift it. This is not ideal.
Instead, you want to control the cadence with which you raise and lower the weights because this provides a more effective stimulus to force the body to adapt. A typical tempo for novices is to lower the weight on a 4-second count and raise the weight quickly, taking 1 second. If you were doing squats, you’d lower yourself under control taking 4 seconds to complete the contraction. Then drive your body up to standing quickly, taking 1 second.
This tempo would be written as 4010: The 4 stands for the eccentric or “down” phase. The first 0 stands for the pause at the bottom (in this case there is no pause). The 1 stands for the concentric or “up” phase, and the second 0 stands for the pause at the top (no pause).
This tempo applies a different stimulus from the typical 1010 tempo (1 second down and 1 second up) done in gyms around the world. For example, doing 10 reps of squats with 60 kg at a 4010 tempo would take 50 seconds to complete and each rep would take 5 seconds, whereas a 1010 tempo for the same weight and reps would take 20 seconds, with each rep would taking 2 seconds. Those 30 seconds is a huge difference in the time the muscles are exposed to the weight.
Longer tempos apply more metabolic stress so a 4010 tempo would help you gain motor control, build muscle, and improve connective tissue. Shorter tempos, such as 1010, typically require heavy loads (above 85 percent of your max lift) and are geared at building strength and neurological efficiency by applying more mechanical stress.
Rule #2: The speed at which you train your lifts dictates how your body adapts.
If you don’t control repetition speed, you might not produce adaptation—meaning no results. For example, a short, 3-week study that compared the effect of bench press training using an explosive tempo with a bench press program that allowed trainees to self-select tempo found that the fast tempo group increased their maximal bench press by 10 percent. The other group that self-selected lifting speed did not gain ANY strength.
A second study perfectly illustrates how lifting speed dictates body composition results. Researchers found that compared to a leg extension protocol that used a 1010 tempo, a 6060 tempo produced much greater protein synthesis. The muscle-building effect increased three-fold at 24 hours after training, indicating muscle damage. The 1-second tempo was superior for increasing neural drive to trigger increases in strength.
Rule #3: Manipulate tempo to lose body fat by favoring anaerobic energy adaptations.
Training with various tempos is one of the best tools for losing body fat by increasing oxygen use post-workout and enhancing the metabolic stress experienced by the body. For example, a 2012 study found that training a longer tempo of 4 seconds down and 1 second up burned more calories and produced a greater excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) than a tempo of 1.5 seconds for both the up and down phases.
It is not surprising that the 4010 tempo required more energy since the participants spent more time “under” the weight, but it reminds us that a simple way to burn more energy during and after working out is to mix up tempo.
In addition, the researchers made the following conclusions about tempo:
* The most efficient way for increasing energy expenditure is to do exercise that uses the anaerobic energy system rather than the aerobic energy system because of the “afterburn” effect that requires the body to jack up the calories it burns during an extended recovery period.
* Altering training tempo is an easy way to tap into the anaerobic system with shorter bursts of activity to lose body fat.
Put it in practice by training big muscle group lifts such as squats, deadlifts, single-leg variations, presses, rows, Olympic lifts, and strongman exercises. Use loads in the 65 to 85 percent range and longer tempos that are 30 seconds to 1 minute per set.
Rule #4: Vary tempo to increase lean muscle mass.
Although longer time under tension is generally best for fat loss, explosive tempos have been found to produce significant lactate buildup, which is associated with a large growth hormone response and recruits the highest threshold fast-twitch muscle fibers for superior muscular adaptations.
For example, a 2012 study found that blood lactate buildup was significantly greater when trained men did 3 sets of 8 reps explosively, with loads ranging from 60 to 70 percent of the 1RM, than with a moderate, slow lifting speed.
Explosive tempos are appropriate for experienced trainees to recruit the most powerful fibers for strength and hypertrophy. Be sure to develop a solid base before “going ballistic” to ensure you have strong connective tissue to handle explosive loads.
Rule #5: Use varied tempos for building strength.
You probably know that most important for building strength is to lift heavy stuff.
Heavy loads above 85 percent of the 1 RM with up to 6 reps per set, trained both explosively and under control, consistently lead to greater strength than lighter loads with longer tempos.
But heavy training is not the only way to trigger adaptations, especially for novice lifters. For example, one study found that training to failure with longer tempos, such as a moderate 50 to 60 percent of the 1RM with a 4-second eccentric tempo produced a 10 percent increase in strength. The longer time under tension led trainees to grow the most powerful type II fibers.
Slower tempos with lighter weights are also a staple of programming when recovering from injury to increase blood flow to the injured area and focus on getting the muscles to fire effectively.
Rule #6: Train explosive tempos to get more athletic.
All things considered, explosive tempos are your best bet for improving athleticism because they build strength, muscle, and power simultaneously. For example, a 2013 study tested four protocols performed to failure:
• Muscular endurance, 55 percent 1RM with a 4141 tempo
• Fast Force endurance, 55 percent 1RM with an explosive tempo
• Maximum Strength, 85 percent 1RM with an explosive tempo
• Hypertrophy, 70 percent 1RM with a 2121 tempo
The results showed the following take aways:
* Use loads in the 30 to 60 percent of the 1RM range with explosive tempos to achieve the greatest power output.
* Using maximal loads, such as with the Max Strength protocol, will also produce a high power output, even though they are trained using a controlled, deliberate tempo.
* For the time required (30 seconds), a Maximum Strength protocol will produce the greatest work output. Advanced trainees can save time by going heavy and fast.
Rule #7: Muscles gain strength faster if worked at various speeds than if always trained at the same speed.
The take away point from this article is not that one tempo is always best, but that you must vary tempo to achieve optimal results.
A common pitfall with weight training is that people just do the same few workouts over and over and over again for months or even years on end. They don’t get stronger, don’t improve body composition, and are probably bored out of their skulls.
To continually experience improvements in your body and fitness, try alternating training phases. Focus first on accumulation by using longer tempos and more volume. Then do a phase that trains strength or “intensification” with heavier weights and shorter tempos.
Tempo training will allow you to radically outperform your colleagues in the gym and probably astound you with how your body and athletic performance will change.