June 21, 2024

F1000 Scientist

Health to Life

How to Manipulate the Tempo of a Rep For Building Muscle

3 min read

One common thing I notice in the gym is people ignoring the tempo at which they do their reps and sets. Tempo happens to be just as important as reps and sets when it comes to constructing the perfect workout for building muscle. Before I begin talking about tempo just let me give you my explanation. Tempo is the speed at which you lift and lower the weight at, the pauses at the top and bottom of each rep, and the overall time of the set. Next let me tell you how to read tempos because they are written out normally with just numbers in a line. An example of a tempo written out would be 4242. This means you raise the weight for four seconds, pause for two seconds at the top of the rep, lower for four seconds, and finally pause for two seconds before you move on to the next rep.

Some people write them out with just three numbers such as 313 and ignore the pause at the bottom. I prefer the pauses because they stop momentum, and if you are just swinging the weight up and down this takes a lot of tension off of the muscle. Another thing to be aware of is if the tempo contains an “X.” All that means is to explode as fast as you can on the way up. Seems simple enough so lets get into common manipulations of tempo. One thing to note really quick. Some people write tempos the opposite way I do. Some have the eccentric or lowering the weight part first. Just be aware because their is no universal law to writing tempos.

Quick Tempos

Quick tempos are typically not used for muscle building workouts because they do not keep the muscle under tension long enough. Instead they are great for explosive training. A common explosive training tempo would look like X0X0, or as I call the hugs and kisses tempo. Explosive training is just fast movements meant to reflect those in sports normally so athletes can gain strength to call on and use fast. Normally explosive training is not done with to many dumbbells and barbells, but instead you use mostly bodyweight exercises and medicine ball exercises. Medicine balls are great for explosive training because you can throw the ball and do movements that are impossible with a dumbbell. Bodyweight exercises are easy to manipulate for explosive training because you can lift yourself off the ground. Push ups where you push away from the floor as hard as you can so you go into the air, and jumping squats are both fine examples of bodyweight explosive training.

Slow Tempos

Truthfully I do not see much value in really slow tempos, and by slow I mean greater than 15 seconds a rep so the tempo would be like 6262. As the saying goes “Train slow be slow.”

Muscle Building Tempos

Now to get to the bread and butter of manipulating tempos. If you wish to do this for muscle gains you probably already know that you should use 8-12 reps. At least that is commonly known, but to even get more detailed in your workout plan for muscle building you want to use tempos that can keep the muscle under tension for 40-60 seconds. Anything under that will come out with a strength gain and anything above 80 or so seconds will come out with aerobic gains. The best is between 40-60 seconds. To get our time between those recommendation we need to do about 5-6 seconds a rep. So my recommend tempos would be 1131, 1121, or even 1221. Any one of those will be great because with 8 reps the seconds come out to about 40-48, and with 12 reps they come out to 60-72 seconds.

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