Your lifting tempo can affect whether or not you achieve your weight training goals, possibly more than your rep range. Here's why.
The standard advice about weight training rep ranges looks something like this...
- If you want to get strong, do sets of 1-3 reps per set.
- If you want to build muscle, do sets of 8-12 reps per set.
- If you want to build muscular endurance, do 15+ reps per set.
Although these are very easy to quote and are a good ballpark range, a little more detail might be helpful, especially if you're looking for the best hypertrophy results.
This detail comes in the form of lifting tempo, which can dramatically affect time under tension, a key component when it comes to building muscle.
Time Under Tension
Let's look at a quick example...
Is 12 reps completed in 12 seconds the same as 12 reps completed in 60 seconds?
Clearly, the time under tension is different. The second lifting tempo provides four times the time under tension.
Extrapolate that across a workout and the difference is vast. Let's just take my push session as an example...
The workout consists of 20 sets and lasts ±50 minutes. In that time, using my chosen tempo, my time under tension will total between 13:20 and 20:00. It would be quite possible to do the reps really fast and achieve less than 5 minutes under tension.
Which would you expect to result in the most muscle damage and thus muscle growth, strength development, muscular endurance etc?
Ultimately, this is what that time in the gym, doing hypertrophy work is all about: maximum results for your blood, sweat and tears.
The Phases of a Lift
What the phases of a lift are, and what happens during each, is worth examining.
Concentric phase - This is the lifting phase. The muscle shortens as it contracts in order to move the weight. Most of us think of strength in terms of concentric contraction and we're largely right to do so. After all, most visible strength is about how much load you can move; the fact that you drop it afterwards is immaterial.
Eccentric Phase - This is the lowering phase. The muscle lengthens under tension, meaning it has to get longer whilst contracting. It's possible to control a weight of up to 40% more in the eccentric phase than it's possible to move in the concentric phase. Remember this when we get back to lifting tempo.
Pause - This is the transition between eccentric and concentric phases. Many lifters don't pause and therefore benefit from some level of elastic rebound, making the concentric phase easier. You certainly don't have to insert a pause, but doing so means that the amount of weight you lift after the pause is all the result of muscle contraction.
This is why planning not just a rep range, but also a lifting tempo is likely to give you better results.
Try This Lifting Tempo
Instead of simply banging out 12 quick reps, try this for a few workouts...
- Eccentric (lowering) Phase = 3 seconds
- Pause = 1 second
- Concentric (lifting phase) = <1 second
Using this lifting tempo, if you achieve the 8-12 rep range with a weight, you'll achieve between 40 and 60 seconds under tension per set. Choose your weights so that you fail concentrically within this range. The moment you hit 12 reps around 60 seconds in your last set, it's time to increase the load.
There are further benefits to slowing down the eccentric part of a lift, including the opportunity to increase your mind-muscle connection and control over the contraction of your targeted muscles.
It can be very hard, especially in the beginning, to know that you're contracting the muscles you want to target if your lifting tempo is too high. However, because the muscle still has to be contracting on the eccentric phase, a slower lifting tempo gives you time to feel the contraction in that muscle before initiating the concentric phase.
This benefit is just as valid if you're doing strength work, when technique, muscle recruitment and alignment become even more of a safety issue.
If you've hit a bit of a plateau with your lifting, a focus on lifting tempo might just be what you need.
Increase your time under tension, learn to control the weight and increase your mind-muscle connection; all the results of a focus on lifting tempo instead of simply getting the reps over as fast as possible.