Tempo is definitely one of the most often ignored parts of a workout routine. Many lifters are just more concerned with how much they are lifting rather than how they are lifting.
If your goal is to get bigger and stronger muscles, you should be focused on the how as much as the how much.
In the average gym you will find many trainers throwing weight around without regard to tempo. I’d guess these trainers are trying to impress themselves or others with the amount of weight their momentum can help them handle.
One thing is for sure, these trainers aren’t making the maximum impression on their muscles.
When you slow down and focus on your tempo, you will not be able to lift as much weight as you would if you utilized momentum.
It can be ego deflating but, trust me, it is muscle inflating.
Traditional Training Tempo Basics
The most important thing to remember with regards to tempo is that you never want to train at a rate that does not allow you to lift with a smooth and controlled motion. This smooth and controlled motion is critical to your weight training success.
Lifting too fast will force momentum to become a major player and will not sufficiently work the muscles.
But, most importantly, lifting too fast will lead to jerky motions that can lead to injuries. It is important to note that tempo is not the only major factor that can derail form, lifting at a slower rate but at a weight that is too heavy can also lead to bad motion and bad injuries.
Tempo is commonly expressed as counts that you do in your head to approximate seconds. A lift with the tempo of 4/0/2 is to be done with a count of 4 on the eccentric portion (lowering), no pause at the bottom of the exercise and a count of 2 during the concentric part (raising).
So it is the eccentric or negative part of the weight lifting exercise listed first, then the bottom and finally the concentric or positive portion.
To do a bench press with a tempo of 4/0/2, you would lower the weight to a count of 4, have no pause at the bottom and then push the weight back up to a count of 2.
Common tempos used in weight training to gain muscle mass fall within the following ranges:
Basic Training Tempos
|Eccentric (Negative)||Bottom of Exercise||Concentric (Positive)|
|2-5 Count||0-1 Count||1-3 Count|
It is important to switch up your tempo on a regular basis. Your weight training tempo should change as often as your workout routines, about every four to eight weeks. This keeps the body from getting comfortable with your pace.
The above table provides a lot of possibilities to keep the body guessing about the tempo you use. Generally, you want to focus more on the eccentric portion of the exercise than the concentric as this has been shown to elicit more of the microscopic tears in the muscle fibers that are necessary for the muscles to then rebuild themselves stronger and bigger.
Tempos like 4/0/2, 3/0/1 and others with more emphasis on the eccentric are widely used by weight trainers with the goals of gaining muscle mass.
Any of the tempos you can come up with within the ranges provided in the table above can be very effective. The bottom portion of the exercise should stay at a zero count (no pause) for the most part but adding a count in there from time to time can be beneficial.
Pausing at the bottom of an exercise eliminates all momentum and can really make your muscles stress in the concentric portion. Generally, there is no pause at the top unless you are utilizing breathing sets as discussed in the Muscle Building Methods for Workout Routines article.
The type of lifting you may see on TV for strength competitions or athletes being tested such as at NFL combines, is not the type of lifting you should be doing to build muscle mass. In these circumstances, participants try and record the highest amount of reps without any real regard to form. It is a measure of muscular endurance and neural ability, not an attempt to condition the body to produce muscle growth.
Unless you are trying to show off, there is no reason for the person trying to gain muscle to lift in this manner. It can create unnecessary injuries.
A quicker routine, one with a tempo of 1/0/1 can be beneficial on occasion. It can be a radical departure from the norm and create stresses that make the body take notice. This is always a good thing, anything to keep the body from getting complacent.
But you never want to lift so quick that you lift out of control. You always want a smooth and controlled motion.
Breathing During Weight Training
Inhale during the eccentric portion of an exercise and exhale during the concentric. Take a deep breath before you begin the first rep and go from there. One full breath per rep. It really is as simple as that.
Only it will not be this simple when you first start out. You will need to concentrate on perfecting your weight training breathing. However, very quickly you will find it becoming second nature. But no matter how experienced you may be, it is a good idea to check your breathing. During my warm-up sets, I always try and check how I’m breathing. Bad habits can creep up on you, you know?
Improper breathing can lead to problems. It can seem natural to hold your breath during the concentric part of an exercise as this can increase the power you exert. Some people even do this on purpose to maximize their strength output. This is foolish behavior.
Not only can holding your breath while weight training lead to headaches, dizziness and fainting, it can increase your blood pressure and stress your heart. Not a good trade-off for a little extra push. Improper breathing will also wear you out faster, making future lifts come off with a little less push.
The exception to the rule of one breath per rep comes with slow lifting and static contraction weight training methods. Thirty seconds can be a bit long for one breath to sufficiently sustain you in a stressful situation. Instead use steady, controlled breathing. In all cases, remember to keep your breathing under control and don’t let bad breathing practices take energy away from your muscles.
When training to build muscle, the time you spend between sets should be between two and four minutes for the most part. The purpose of this rest is to allow your muscles to recover and when you’re goal is to gain muscle mass you want your muscles as fully recovered as reasonably possible. The more your muscles are recovered, the more weight they can successfully handle.
Circuit training, going from exercise to exercise with the goal of creating an anaerobic and aerobic workout is not the most efficient way to build muscle mass. Rest intervals are critical to mass building.
Vary the time you spend between sets from time to time (keep the body guessing). Resting for less than two minutes can be beneficial with some routines. Volume training routines call for less rest as do other bodybuilding techniques meant to shock the body. But the two to four minutes is a good range for your core routines.
Compound exercises may take longer to recover from than isolated exercises, but it is good to keep your rest intervals to the same length with each routine for the purpose of keeping a rhythm to your workout, the sake of simplicity and because there is much to do in this time.
What To Do Between Sets?
The over-riding reason for the rest intervals is to rest your body. And this you must do but this does not mean you should rest your mind at the same time. Don’t let your mind drift off into thinking of the problems of the day, keep it focused on your workout, keep its intensity focused towards your goals of gaining muscle mass, keep a warrior mindset, use visualization to perform your next lift. Get up and take a short, slow walk. Perform some light stretching.
Always keep your mind on the task at hand – getting a quick and intense workout that will stimulate new muscle growth. For more on using the mind to help create weight training success through visualization and other techniques, check out the Mental Bodybuilding Techniques Page.
Get Out The Stopwatch
Don’t always trust that clock in your head. From time to time it is a good idea to check up on yourself. Time your sets and make sure they are close to where they should be.
A set of ten performed at a tempo of 3/0/3 should be completed in about a minute – (3 + 0 + 3)10 = 60 seconds. And never trust your mind to tell you when your rest interval is up, it will fail you. Always use a clock.
“Do I really need to change what I do in the gym?”
Everything you do in the gym is in an effort to make the body react. When you first start training, there is little that you can do that won’t make the body take notice. However, as your weight training progresses, the body acclimates to the stresses you put on it and starts to sleep-walk through your workouts.
In order to keep progressing, you must learn to keep the body guessing. In the article, Weight Training Routines: Change is Good, you’ll find some suggestions on how to keep the body from getting comfortable with your weight training.