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Change the tempo, gain muscle and strength


If you've ever played or even listened to music, you know that tempo is everything. The speed of a song can completely change the feeling and energy of the song. Well, the same goes for tempo and weightlifting, by changing the speed at which you lift and lower weights, you can give those weights a whole new feel.

Tempo training is an exciting and dynamic style of weightlifting that adds a whole new level of challenge, intensity, and control to your workouts. Changing the tempo allows you to target different muscle fibres, increase power, and boost endurance.

In this blog, I explain the anatomy of a lift and the benefits of tempo training, recommend different tempos and repetition ranges for your goals, and suggest when might be the best time to incorporate this type of training into your workouts.

The anatomy of a lift

There are three distinct phases to any lift:

  • Eccentric (when you lengthen the muscle)

  • Isometric (when you contract the muscle)

  • Concentric (when you shorten the muscle)

While those may sound scientific, in reality, they're simple to understand and are the key to unlocking greater muscle and strength gains.

Let's start with the eccentric phase. This is the lowering phase of a lift where you control the weight and resist gravity. It's like the decrescendo in music where the song gets softer as the musician slowly and smoothly lowers the volume. Lowering the weight in a controlled manner maximises the resistance and activates the muscles.

Next up is the isometric phase. This is the pause at the midpoint of a lift where the muscle is held in a contracted position without movement, just like a rest in music where there's a momentary pause. By holding this position, you force your muscles to work harder and increase overall strength and stability.

Finally is the concentric phase. This is the lifting phase of a lift where you generate force to move the weight. This is the crescendo in music, where the sound gets gradually louder. It's explosive and powerful and taps into your fast-twitch muscle fibres improving overall power and speed.

Whether you're trying to build muscle, increase endurance, or improve your athletic performance, understanding these three different phases of weightlifting is essential.

The benefits of tempo training

Incorporating tempo into your weightlifting routine can offer several benefits, including:

  • Increased muscle activation and awareness

  • Improved strength gains

  • Enhanced muscular endurance

  • Reduced risk of injury

  • Increased confidence (longer time in the isometric phase of a lift will help you feel more in control)

What's the best tempo for each phase?

There is no "best" tempo for weightlifting. The tempo (duration) of the eccentric, isometric, and concentric phases of a lift will depend on your goals.

At any given time, you will generally be in pursuit of one of three goals when weightlifting:

  • Endurance (increase stamina to remain active for longer periods)

  • Hypertrophy (increase the size of muscle fibres to look more muscular)

  • Strength (increase power to exert more force when lifting weights)

By adjusting the tempo, you can tailor your weight training to meet any of these specific goals. Here's how your tempo may change for each type of weight training:

  • Tempo training for endurance typically involves using a slower tempo with higher repetitions. You could take 2–6 seconds to lower the weight, hold for 1 second, and then take 1–2 seconds to lift the weight. This creates more time under tension and challenges the muscles to work harder for longer periods.

  • Hypertrophy training typically involves a moderate tempo with moderate-to-high repetitions. You could take 2–3 seconds to lower the weight, hold for 1 second, and then take 1–2 seconds to lift the weight. This provides enough resistance to stimulate muscle growth.

  • Power training is explosive and fast, and typically involves a faster tempo and lower repetitions. You could take 1–2 seconds to lower the weight, hold for 1 second, and then take 1–2 seconds to lift the weight. This emphasises the concentric phase of the lift, allowing you to generate more force. Do not sacrifice proper form in pursuit of a more explosive movement.

You can refer to the table below for different tempos and recommended repetition ranges for each training goal.

When is the best time to try tempo training?

The simple answer is anytime! However, there are some particular times when I think it could be more beneficial to try or reprogram tempo training into your routine.

  • When you want to add variety to your weightlifting routine.

  • When you want to add challenge to your weightlifting routine.

  • When you hit a plateau and want to bust through it.

  • If you're new to or returning to weightlifting and want to develop proper form.

Ultimately, I recommend that you try tempo weight training, whether you're starting your weightlifting journey or just want to mix things up. Be sure to consult a qualified personal trainer about developing a safe and effective program that's appropriate for your experience and fitness level.

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