Lifting tempo refers to the speed that you’re moving the weights when you’re performing an exercise. It’s something most people don’t give much thought when they’re lifting. They just push/pull as hard as they can, and depending on how heavy the weight is, that’s how fast it goes up and down.
When the tempo is written into a program it will look like this 2-1-2-1. If we use the bicep curl for example, this will represent a 2 second concentric (lifting the weight), 1-second squeeze at the top of the movement, 2 seconds eccentric (lowering the weight), 1-second pause at the bottom of the movement.
Altering your lifting tempo is an excellent way of adding some variety to your training, creating a new stimulus to your body, thus providing stimulus for further positive adaptations . A standard tempo is 2-1-2-1. This is a good tempo for safety and for most training goals. It promotes greater control of the during the movement and is a good tempo for general health benefits, muscle development, and also strength. If you’re using this tempo as your base tempo for your programs, you are doing great. It is, however, very useful to alter your tempo regularly. This is especially beneficial for people who don’t have access to a wide variety of equipment or additional weights to overload their muscles by increase the intensity eg home gyms, hotel gyms, bodyweight training etc
By slowing down the repetitions you place the muscle under greater strain even when using lighter weights. This is done by increasing the time under tension the muscle endures per set. To achieve these longer reps you will need to reduce the loads that you normally lift or the number of reps you complete in the set. The reduced weight or rep number will still allow the intensity to remain very high and your muscles will be screaming at you by the end of the set.
Lengthening the Eccentric
A great way to change the tempo of your lift is to slow down the eccentric portion of the lift, which is the lengthening of the muscle. The eccentric portion of the lift is responsible for the micro-tears in your muscle, which cause your body to lay down new protein filaments, causing our muscles to grow and strengthen. By adding extra time to this portion of the lift, we can maximize the stress placed on our muscle during. A little warning comes with this type of tempo training…….. You should expect to be very sore afterward. The eccentric portion of the lift is responsible for the micro-tears, and these microtears are what cause the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that you feel in the 24-72 hour period following resistance training.
Try playing around with different tempos on the eccentric, counting to 3, 5, 7 or even shock yourself up big time by lowering for a count of 10. The muscles will burn during, and you’ll definitely be feeling it in the days after the session.
Lengthening the concentric
You can also concentrate on slowing down your concentric portion of the lift. Again, this is the part of the lift where you actually lift the weight and your muscle shortens.
It is significantly more challenging to slow down this portion of the lift. The tendency will be to want to push the weight harder and faster, and it takes a great deal of control to keep the movement slow, controlled and most importantly at a constant speed through the whole range of motion. If you are chasing a big burn to your muscles, this will 100% get the job done. It is a great way to add intensity to a session when you may only have light weights or your bodyweight to work with.
When programming, if I increase the concentric time under tension I will generally increase the eccentric at the same time but it isn’t always necessary. For a serious burn, try a 10 rep set with 5/0/5/0 tempo, without locking the weight out or releasing the tension at either end of the reps.
A side note : One demographic that I would increase the concentric but not the eccentric would be for the elderly. They could perform slightly longer concentric portions of the lift to help them improve the contractile ability of their muscles, decrease the risk of falls, while not increasing the eccentric portion and inducing too much muscle damage which can cause an acute immune suppression.
One downside I see to performing really slow tempo training regularly is that it won’t stimulate your high threshold, type IIB fibers, as well as what lower reps and heavier weights will. These fibers are most receptive to hypertrophy, and respond greatest to heavy loads and explosive movements.
Personally, for my standard programs I use 1-1-3-0. This is a three second eccentric, zero pause at the bottom of the lift, a one second powerful concentric, a one-second squeeze at peak contraction . This allows me to get a good emphasis on the eccentric portion to cause microtears but also stimulates those high threshold fibers through the explosive portion of the lift. It’s a 5-second repetition, where the load will still remain quite heavy but with a deliberate emphasis on different aspects of the lift.
Training tempo is a very easy way to spice up your training without the need for new exercises, more sets or more reps, just add more time under tension.
There really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to lifting tempo. It is just another variable that you can play around with to alter your training, providing new stimulus to your muscles, and shocking them into adaptation. Experiment with different things, try a 2 rep set with a 20 second concentric and 20 seconds eccentric on each rep, try 2-second isometric holds at the end of the range, just try lots of different things and have some fun with it.
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