When you head to the gym to lift weights, do you ever pay attention to the speed of your reps? You probably pay close attention to exercise selection, rep ranges, and rest periods but most people overlook lifting tempo.
Even experienced lifters with years of training experience will go about their workout without any real intention behind their rep speed.
Those who pay attention to their tempo tend to do so in an attempt to maximize muscle growth. But does lifting tempo really make a difference for hypertrophy? And is there any reason to care about tempo outside of muscle mass?
As it turns out, lifting tempo is a component of your program that deserves some respect. ignoring lifting tempo may cause you to leave a lot of results on the table.
More Muscle Gain?
As mentioned, most conversations that involve lifting tempo are centered around gaining muscle. You see, mechanical tension is one of the main drivers of muscle hypertrophy. Typically, there are two main ways to increase mechanical tension in a workout:
- Increase the weight you are lifting, or
- Increase the time you spend lifting the weight
Slowing down your rep speed essentially increases the time your muscles spend under tension. Theoretically, this would lead to more muscle growth since there would be an increase in mechanical tension. Many bodybuilders deliberately lift weights slowly in an attempt to trigger more muscle growth.
There is just one problem with this logic: you can’t necessarily lift the same weight for the same number of reps when you slow down your lifting tempo. Typically, the slower your rep speed, the lighter the weight has to be in order to complete the same number of reps.
So, what causes more muscle growth, lifting a lighter weight more slowly, or lifting a heavier weight more quickly? The research says that the hypertrophic benefit is essentially equal between the two [1,2]. In fact, it seems that using a lifting tempo anywhere between 0.5 and 8 seconds will lead to the same amount of muscle growth. However, the research does show that less hypertrophy occurs when lifting tempo lasts 10 seconds or more .
Now, most of that research dealt with lifting tempos strategies in which both the eccentric and concentric portions of an exercise were slowed down. Some research that has looked at manipulating just the eccentric portion of the lift has shown promise as far as muscle gain is concerned . But, there isn’t a lot of research to go on so we can’t be sure that slow eccentrics are absolutely better for hypertrophy.
The key is focusing on controlled movement execution. Flailing around and lifting a weight with momentum is going to short-change you as far as hypertrophy is concerned. Your movement tempo should allow you to stay in control of the weight at all times. This will ensure that you maintain a solid mind-muscle connection and stimulate the muscle as much as possible.
Connective Tissue Strength & Injury Rehab
So, it seems that there isn’t necessarily a magical benefit to slow tempo training for muscle mass. However, there are still other important aspects of training besides building muscle.
The muscles get all the attention when it comes to working out and lifting weights. But, they can’t do their job without the help of the tendons, ligaments, and bones. Slower tempo training may not build muscle any faster but it does provide a big benefit to our connective tissue. Several studies have shown that slow tempo training promotes better connective tissue repair and remodeling compared to traditional speeds [4,5].
So, if you find yourself hurt, you can use slow tempo training to help your injuries heal faster. Similarly, you can use slow tempo training simply to build stronger connective tissue which will allow you to lift more weight in the future with less risk of injury.
Plus, as we already saw, you’ll still get the same hypertrophy benefits even though you have to use lighter weights!
Another area that I’ve found lifting tempo to be beneficial is by improving neuromuscular efficiency. Cycling through periods of slow and fast tempo is a great way to prime the nervous system to handle more challenging loads.
With slow tempo training, you are teaching your body how to absorb force and transfer it properly. You can also use it to really hone in on proper technique and work on sticking points in your compound lifts. Both of these make your nervous system more efficient at lifting weights.
This same concept applies to many disciplines in life. We tend to practice things slowly before we try them at full speed. Once you progress to a faster tempo, your body is able to handle the heavier loads and produce more force. This not only increases your strength effectively but also decreases your risk of injury as well.
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Finally, manipulating lifting tempo is a great tool for progressive overload.
No one training program will continue to produce positive results forever. Your body needs a change of stimulus in order to continue adapting. Of course, you accomplish this by increasing the weight you use when training. But what happens when you hit a sticking point?
Although there are a few options here, one good one is changing the tempo of your reps. This can breathe new life into an otherwise tired and boring training plan.
For example, you could spend a few weeks focusing on slow eccentrics or paused reps on squats. Then, when you return to full-speed training, you’ll find that you’ve broken through your sticking point and that you’re able to train with heavier weight.
Continue doing this from block to block and you’re sure to see a lot more progress in the gym compared to sticking with the same lifting tempo all the time.
Lifting tempo is definitely not something you want to overlook in your training program. It may not be as important as your training volume and intensity but it still can make a difference in your long-term success.
Slow tempo training may not have a special muscle-building benefit, but it still produces just as much hypertrophy as traditional training. Plus, it can help us out in other areas like injury rehab, or neuromuscular efficiency, as well as give us another tool to use for progressive overload.
Overall, tempo helps us to mix things up on a regular basis which we know will lead to better adaptations over time. In that way, lifting tempo can be a great resource for helping us build more muscle and strength from our training.
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- Mohamad, N. I., Cronin, J. B., & Nosaka, K. K. (2012). Difference in kinematics and kinetics between high-and low-velocity resistance loading equated by volume: implications for hypertrophy training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(1), 269-275.
- Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., & Krieger, J. W. (2015). Effect of repetition duration during resistance training on muscle hypertrophy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 45(4), 577-585.
- Pereira, P. E. A., Motoyama, Y. L., Esteves, G. J., Quinelato, W. C., Botter, L., Tanaka, K. H., & Azevedo, P. (2016). Resistance training with slow speed of movement is better for hypertrophy and muscle strength gains than fast speed of movement. International Journal of Applied Exercise Physiology, 5(2).Chicago
- Beyer, R., Kongsgaard, M., Hougs Kjær, B., Øhlenschlæger, T., Kjær, M., & Magnusson, S. P. (2015). Heavy slow resistance versus eccentric training as treatment for Achilles tendinopathy: a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of sports medicine, 43(7), 1704-1711
- Hyldahl, R. D., Nelson, B., Xin, L., Welling, T., Groscost, L., Hubal, M. J., … & Parcell, A. C. (2015). Extracellular matrix remodeling and its contribution to protective adaptation following lengthening contractions in human muscle. The FASEB Journal, 29(7), 2894-2904.