One of the most commonly overlooked loading parameters is tempo, or lifting speed. It relates to the “time under tension” of an exercise. For those who are still unconvinced of the importance of training tempo, here are five good reasons – complete with peer-reviewed scientific references – to change your mindset.
1. Vary Tempo to Overcome a Plateau. Varying tempo, or changing the rate at which you perform the different parts of a lift, is an excellent way to overcome a plateau and shock the body into adapting. Time under tension governs the amount of stimulus a muscle is exposed to. For instance, performing a set of 10 repetitions of squats with 60 kg at a 1-second-up and 1-second-down tempo is quite different from the same weight and reps at a 1-second-up and 4-second-down tempo. The difference is in the time exposed to tension. The first variation takes 20 seconds, while the second variation takes 50 seconds. That is a 30-second difference in the time the muscles are exposed to the weight.
In prescribing tempo, four numbers are used like this: 4210. The first number dictates the seconds it takes for the eccentric or down motion; the second number is the pause before the concentric motion, which is the third number; and the fourth number is the pause before the repetition repeats. In the case of a 4210 tempo in the bench press, it takes 4 seconds to lower the weight, there is a 2-second pause, then the weight is rapidly pushed up in 1 second and the rep starts over immediately.
You should change the amount of time spent on different phases of a lift because it increases intramuscular tension and provides a new or different type of stimulus to the muscles. It is a great way to stimulate further strength development once the body has adapted to a rep range or set range and isn’t making progress. Plus, varied tempo is an ideal way to train for hypertrophy and strength at the same time.