Manipulating time under tension while resistance training is all the rage lately. A number of new research studies provide evidence that varying tempo is one of your best tools for achieving greater strength, size, and athletic performance.
As you will see in this review of what we’ve learned about varying tempo since the start of 2012, programming the tempo of each lift is not just for the elite athlete or accomplished bodybuilder. It can be used safely by the novice trainee, the deconditioned individual, or someone recovering from an injury. If you’re not already manipulating time under tension for your workouts, this article provides ten reasons why you need to start.
#1 Use Tempo to Get Better Results: Don’t Leave Your Success to Chance
Program the tempo of your lifts in order to get better results. Haphazardly changing the time you spend on each phase of a lift is not ideal, nor is using a self-selected speed that is random. This would be like erratically throwing plates on the bar to squat and then doing some squats to parallel and others only a quarter of the way down—you might as well not even train at all!
Prescribing tempo means you choose how long you will spend on the concentric and eccentric phases of the lift. You can also include a pause at the top or bottom of a lift. Programming the amount of time your muscles spend under tension is just as important as programming reps, sets, and loads.
You might think that a longer tempo is always superior, but this is not always so. Rather a varied tempo that is based on proven results is. For example, a study published in February in the International Journal of Sports Medicine compared the effect of using a fast tempo with a self-selected tempo on strength gains in the bench press after three weeks of training. One group was told to perform the bench press as fast as they could under control, using a load of 85 percent of the 1RM. The second group was simply told to perform the bench press and received no instructions regarding how quickly to perform the lift—they self-selected their tempo and used the same heavy load.
After three weeks, the fast tempo group increased 10 percent in maximal bench press strength—very impressive gains in only six sessions! The other group that self-selected lifting speed did not gain ANY strength.
The fast tempo group gained strength because they were lifting with more force, which places greater demand on the muscles and leads to greater recruitment of more motor units, particularly the type 2 fast-twitch fibers. It’s not that a fast tempo is always superior, just that you can’t leave tempo to chance if you want to get results!