One common mistake that new trainees make is that they tend to rush their reps and in our experience tempo is the second greatest client issue after the correcting of movement execution.
So what is tempo? When we talk about tempo in training we are talking about a four digit number that dictates the speed of execution of the exercise. Examples being 4020, 3110 etc. where the first number is the speed of the eccentric phase of the movement, essentially when the weight is moving WITH gravity. The second number represents a pause time before moving onto the third number which is the speed of the concentric phase where the weight is moving AGAINST gravity. Finally the fourth number is another pause, before starting over. Sound confusing? Well let us give you some specific examples:
- 4020 would represent: 4 seconds down, no pause, 2 seconds up, no pause. Then repeat.
- 3110 would represent: 3 seconds down, a 1 second pause, 1 second up, and no pause. Then repeat.
Now that we have two examples under our belt, lets look at why this is important:
Ultimately hypertrophy (muscle growth) is most stimulated when time under tension (TUT) is between 40 and 70 seconds. So to apply this to an example of two people lifting the same weight and both doing a set of 10 reps:
Person 1: Completes a fast bench press and just focuses on ‘bashing them out’ and getting the 10 reps. On average he lowers the bar for 2 seconds and takes 1 second to return the bar to its original position. The time it takes him to do 1 rep is 3 seconds and for the 10 reps his total time under tension (TUT) for the set is 30 seconds.
Person 2: Is controlled and adheres to a 4020 tempo. He lowers the bar for 4 seconds and without a pause he takes 2 seconds to return the bar to its original position. He doesn’t pause and repeats this for a total of 10 reps. On average a rep takes him 6 seconds and his total TUT for the set is 60 seconds.
Now both individuals on a superficial level have completed 10 reps, but the actual outcome is very different. Person 2 actually lifted the load for twice as long and all else being equal will achieve better hypertrophy from the exercise.
So what is the take home message? Time under tension is important for muscle growth, and this is why including tempo in your program is also important. Furthermore tempo provides another training variable from which to vary workouts and exercises in a manner that can spur new growth. Moreover this variety becomes increasingly important with increased training age, as we need to find more tricks to stimulate growth.