Lift at Different Tempos to Build More Muscle
If you’re a regular gym user, you’ve probably done some research (Google, Instagram and YouTube scrolling…) for the best ways to build muscle.
You probably found all kinds of fascinating methods and approaches, some of which would have been very odd or outright dangerous.
But here’s the good news…
In this post you’ll learn a tried and tested method to building more muscle in the gym with weight training. One that doesn’t mean you need to risk injury.
This is your guide on lifting with tempo.
What is lifting with temp in weight training?
Tempo in weight training refers to the speed at which you move. There are four parts to it. Let’s take the squat as an example:
- Eccentric/Lowering – squatting down
- Pausing – the lowest point of the squat
- Concentric/Pushing – standing up
- Pausing – at the very top of the move
So we have 4 movements and each part takes a certain number of seconds to complete it. Most people will use a 2,0,1,2 tempo.
This means they’ll lower for 2 seconds, have no pause at the bottom, push back up quite quickly for 1 second and then rest for a couple of seconds at the top.
There is nothing wrong with that tempo, but if you do it all the time your body will get used to it so you need to change it up. Let’s look at why.
Related: Check out how to optimise your rest periods between sets.
Time under tension
Put simply, time under tension refers to how many seconds your muscles are having to work per set of the exercise you do. Let’s use the squat example again.
The standard 2,0,1,2 tempo results in 3 seconds of hard work and 2 seconds of active rest – when you’re standing at the top – per rep. Let’s assume you do 10 reps. That’s 30 seconds of time under tension in total where you’re active per set.
Now imagine that you changed your tempo to 4,2,2,2. The active time under tension would now be 8 seconds per rep and 80 seconds per set. That’s almost 3 x as much per set.
Imagine how much more your legs are going to be working in this scenario. Now you’re seeing the huge benefit to using different tempos when weight training.
Why it leads to more muscle…
Your muscles respond to being stressed and overloaded. Meaning that when you lift a weight (overload), you stress the muscle more than usual. In order to handle that load it needs to rebuild bigger and stronger.
That’s why you get muscle soreness after a workout. Your muscles get tiny micro tears in them and then the body rebuilds them but bigger, thicker and therefore stronger.
By training with the slower tempo, you are stressing the muscles more per set and therefore they have to respond by building bigger.
But it’s not always that way…
If you’re a beginner or you haven’t trained in a while, you can probably just start off with a standard tempo and see good results.
The reason is that your body will not be used to any overloading so it will get great benefits from even just a small amount of overload.
In fact, if you are new to exercising then it’s best to build up a good base without going too hard too soon otherwise you may overtrain your muscles and that can easily lead to injury.
For more advanced lifters…
If you’ve been hitting the gym for a while and have noticed a bit of a plateau in your results, using a different tempo is a great way to get your body working harder again and see more improvements.
You can play around with lots of different tempos. Slow lowering phases of up to 6 or 8 seconds, pauses from 1 to 3 seconds, pushing/concentric phases of 1 to 5 seconds. It really is all about mixing it up and seeing what works for you.
The key is to change it up when you notice that you’re not seeing results any longer.
If you’re unsure about any of this, you can always hire a personal trainer to help you and then you can rest assured knowing you are in safe hands.
Another benefit of slower tempo training…
When you do an explosive squat, or any other movement for that matter, you’re using a lot of momentum to move the bar or weight.
That means that you are usually working the muscle only at the start of the movement because once the bar and your body is moving upwards and the muscles are not having to work as hard.
When you think about making that movement very slow and controlled, the muscle is having to work hard through the full range of the move, not just the start.
It’s also a very different type of muscle contraction. Explosive vs slow and controlled, so will activate different muscle fibres and energy systems to complete the move.
You can think of HIIT training vs a long slow run out in the park as two very opposite examples, too.
A real world example
Let’s take a look at a great way to really overload your muscles to build size and strength, but also how to get an athletic look by using explosive movements.
We’re going to look at an example with the squat.
You start off by finding a weight you can do 10 reps of with very good form with a tempo of 4,2,2,0. So that’s 4 seconds down, 2 second pause, 2 seconds up and 0 rest at the top of the move.
You will likely have to drop the weight down from what you are used to lifting. If you normally lift 80kg, you might want to go back down to 50kg.
As soon as you have done 10 reps of that, you then re-rack the bar and go straight into a bodyweight explosive jump squat. Do 8 reps.
They need to be done at 100% effort, with a good deep squat and a high explosive jump off the floor. As high as you can get.
You will probably feel out of breath after this. Do 4 sets in total. Then sit back and relax while your legs grow into those summer shorts.
A full example of a week training plan
You can find all kinds of free training plans available online, especially on YouTube and places.
This one is a pretty good example of how you could do it, which combines weight training using different tempos for 3 days a week and also some HIIT style training and a bit of cardio.
A great combination if you want to build some muscle and shed some fat.
The bottom line…
Switch up your training with different tempos to see improved muscle building. Doing the same thing all the time will not stress your body enough to see big results.
Use explosive moves along with slow, controlled tempo ones.