Best Tempo for Lifting Weights

Weight lifting tempo hadn’t really been to important to me until lately, as I’ve realized the true importance of tempo and time under tension.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term “tempo” in weight lifting, basically it refers the speed in which you perform a rep of a certain exercise.

There are a couple parts to the tempo: the first being the “eccentric” movement (or lowering of the weight), next the “concentric” movement of contracting the muscle (pushing the dumbbells away from your chest), and then any pauses you do in-between movements.

The most overlooked part of the tempo is the eccentric movement, where you are lowering the weight. Using barbell bench press as an example, this is when you get to the top of the press and you are lowering to start the press again. The quicker you lower the weights the less time under tension for your muscles, allowing you to lift more weight during the concentric portion of the exercise (in this case the press). What most people don’t realize is that muscle growth and strength gains come from this eccentric phase of the tempo where the muscle is being stretched.

Most people think that by lowering the weight quickly and saving energy they will be able to lift more weights for more reps, meaning the most size and strength gains. But that is the wrong way to think. Don’t worry about how much weight you are lifting, but focus on keeping your muscles under tension for a longer period of time and you should notice some quick gains.

The most common tempo is often something like 1 or 2 seconds up and 1 second down, repeat. This is probably the least effective tempo you can perform when lifting weights.

So what is the best weight lifting tempo for strength and muscle gains?

There isn’t one specific answer because it really depends on what your goals are and changing up your tempo every few weeks is beneficial.

With that said I will say that you should be looking at something like 1 second up, and 2-4 seconds down. You can also add pauses at the top at bottom of lifts. So using the barbell bench press example you would take the bar off the rack, lower for say 3 seconds, pause for 1 second, and then explode up for a 1 second lift, and lower for 3 seconds, repeat.

Lifting tempos are often put in numbers, so the above would look like this: 311x — meaning 3 down, 1 pause, 1 up, no pause at top. You will want to be changing those up slightly every few weeks, but the same principals apply – slow eccentric movement, quicker concentric (under control). This is the total opposite of what you will see most people doing at the gym because they will be struggling to get the weights up and then practically drop them to start the lift again. That isn’t effective and if you switch your lifting tempo to doing a slower and more controlled eccentric portion of the lift you will notice big gains.

Lastly, if you are training for speed/strength (think sports) you want your total “time under tension” to be relatively low – 25 seconds or less. If you are training for muscle hypertrophy (to build muscle) your time under tension should be more like 25-45 seconds.

Hopefully this article taught you something about weight lifting tempo that you didn’t know and you notice some solid gains from the info.

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