Rep tempo training for muscle gains


In this episode, Wes and I discuss rep tempo training for muscle gains, because sometimes you just get bored with lifting weights. To keep things fresh we have added varied tempos to our daily workout.

Some say tempo training is everything; others say it’s a load of bollocks! So I decided to look into the science and see what we come up with. If you liked the show don’t forget to head over to iTunes and rate with show when you get a chance or leave a comment below.

Check out this episode!

Podcast content summary

Rep tempo for muscle gains

[Time 0.20] This week we were trying something new at the gym, because sometimes you just get bored with lifting weights. So to keep things fresh we have been doing a bit of rep tempo training. Some say rep tempo is everything, others say it’s a load of bollocks! So I decided to look into the science and put research into practice.

[2.00] We got a new rescues dog from the pound and have been enjoying the time training him up. Luis the dog is going to be Gabby’s new running partner. She is using positive rewards to train the dog to sit, stay and walk on the lead. Pets have been shown to help with relaxation and aid with depression and anxiety.

What does tempo mean?

[7.29] It’s the time you take to lift and lower a weight, it’s your lifting speed. It makes up the amount of time under tension your muscle is under and the length of time your muscle is contracting and breaking down against load contributes to strength gains.

What does time under tension (TUT) mean?

[9.22] It’s the length of time your muscle is contracting to resist the force of the weight it’s lifting. You may have seen on some body building websites listing rep tempo as a 4-digit sequence for example 3-0-1-0.

[10.25 ]How it works is;

  • The first number is the time taken to allow the muscle to lengthen (eccentric phase)
  • The second is the pause
  • The third is the time used to contract the muscle
  • The fourth is the pause at the end of the movement

So in the example of a squat, you would take 3 seconds to lower to 90degree angle at the knees, no pause (0 seconds), 1 second to straighten the legs, no pause at the top.

[12.28] In our tricep workout this week we did skull crushers or laying tricep b.bell extension to be more technical, and we used a rep tempo of 3-2-1-1. So that was 3 seconds to drop (eccentric), 2-second isometric hold at the bottom, 1 second to concentrically contract and lift the b.bell up and 1-second pause at the top and repeat. This was defiantly hard and my triceps where on fire by the end.

What do slower tempos have an advantage over a faster rep tempo?

[15.12] Slower tempo will help you develop core control, strength due to lengthened eccentric and isometric phases, body awareness, giving you more muscle gains. Increased length of pause time at the end of the eccentric phase acts as a form of isometric muscle contraction, which does increase strength.

What is an isometric contraction?

[15.47] It’s your muscle contracting at a fixed length. Meaning the muscle isn’t lengthening or contracting, it’s staying the same length your basically not moving. Think wall squat or a plank. They are isometric exercises. It’s the most effective way of building strength.

Programming the tempo of your lifts can be just as important as programming the sets, reps and loads, because it ultimately affects the length of time under tension of your muscle.

Fast rep tempos are explosive lifting, which trains the type 2 fast twitch muscle fibres. These are power fibres. Which is also useful for muscle gains and certain sports.

[18.06] Speed rep tempo like 2-0-0-1 are more beneficial for power athletes and advanced lifters. You apply force quickly and tap into those type 2 fibres.

Would you use tempo training for weight loss?

[20.30] Some people suggest slower tempos with lighter loads produce greater metabolic stress, to cause weight loss but there are no studies to suggest slow rep tempo training aids in weight loss.

My suggestion is you will probably burn more calories doing slower reps (more time under tension), but if you’re after serious weight loss your better off looking into your diet and doing a bit of extra cardio.

Study: Effect of different pushing speeds on bench press.

[21.60] This study had 2 groups of 10 people in each; first group lifting at fast speeds 80-100% maximal speed. Second group had a self-selected speed. Both groups were trained for 2 sessions a week for 3 weeks on a bench press. Pushing speed and load of lifts were measured before the exercise protocol and after the test. In the group that lifted fast speed their maximum load increased by 10.20%, compared to the self-selected group, which only improves by 1%. In this study it showed that high velocity training could increase muscular strength better than haphazard lifting.

Study: Early-phase muscular adaptations in response to slow-speed versus traditional resistance-training regimens.

[24.48] In this study with untrained women they split 34 women into 4 groups:

  1. Slow speed
  2. Normal speed- traditional strength training
  3. Normal speed- muscular endurance training
  4. No – exercise groups

They did leg exercises, leg press, curls and leg extension, twice a week for the 1st week and then, 3x week for 5 weeks.

The normal speed- traditional strength training group showed an increase in the percentage of type 2a muscle fibres as well as cross sectional area of type 1, and type 2x. This was also seen in the slow speed training, but no other group.

Slow-speed strength training induced a greater adaptive response compared to training with a similar resistance at “normal” speed. However, training with a higher intensity at “normal” speed resulted in the greatest overall muscle fibre response in each of the variables assessed.

Usually when we think about tempo training we think about doing a very slow and repeated eccentric phase of the movement and a quick concentric phase, as a form of power training. However, this next study seems to show that a fast eccentric contraction is actually better.

Study: Optimising power output by varying rep tempo.

[25.13] In this study they got 24 college-aged trained mean and they got them doing bench press at 80% RM, varying rep tempos with a metronome. They tested if intra rep resting (the pause) had any effect on power out put of lifts.

They showed that fast eccentric phases lasting 1 second and no zero bottom resting, produced the highest power output, resulting in a greater volume of work. Meaning more time under tension and less pause could be better for you in terms of more powerful muscles.

Thats not to say any other form of tempo training is wrong, slower speeds are better for building strength. Faster speeds are for power. So mix up your workouts.


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