In a previous, Gone Liftin’ article, Tempo Training: Count Your Way To Gains, we discovered and learned the benefits of training by varying your rep-tempo schemes. If ya didn’t read it, make sure and go back and do so!
Another article we feel inclined to recommend, is Tempo Training Taken To The Court, found on TheGymLifestyle.com, which has a pretty good view about certain aspects involving tempo training and where it comes in handy, and other aspects where it needs to be looked at slightly more closely to make sure it’s actually benefitting us instead of stale-mating us…
The practicality and implementation of tempo training is a controversial issue in the realm of program design. There are so many different variables associated with tempo training, so much so, that training with slow reps and extremely fast reps could each be classified as forms of Tempo Training – but for the sake of this article we are going to classify tempo training under the category of slower movements for the purpose of muscle growth, otherwise known as hypertrophy.
How pleasantly delightful!! TheGymLifestyle shares views similar to ours. Great minds DO in fact think alike, it seems…
So what is the theory behind tempo training? In short, it is to maximize muscle tension. It is believed that resistance training induced tension disturbs the integrity of skeletal muscle, which in turn stimulates various mechanical and chemical responses that ultimately lead to growth(16). To dive further into tempo training we must first understand the four phases of the repetition and the three muscle actions. As a word of caution, the phases of the rep are my own terminology, you will see variations of these phases in strength training literature, but the idea remains the same.
Well said, boys, well said! As we discussed in our previous article, there are 4 “phases” to tempo training:
- The eccentric phase
- The concentric phase
- The stretch phase
- The isometric phase
The basic premise behind tempo training involves manipulating these four phases to maximize muscle damage, metabolic stress, and mechanical stress – which have been recognized as the 3 main factors of hypertrophy. So if we wanted to maximize metabolic stress, theoretically faster repetitions would target both Type II fiber variations which have been demonstrated to consistently accumulate fatigue faster than their slow twitch counterparts. Whereas if we wanted to maximize mechanical stress and muscle damage, a greater emphasis on controlled movement and slower lowering phases would be implemented. But the question remains, does allotting certain durations to each phase make an actual difference in the response – or is it majoring in the minutiae? Let’s take a look at the evidence in favor of slow tempos.
In this piece, we are going to look at tempo training with more specificity toward a particular goal, followed by the pros and cons…
The Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More Than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise in Young Men
A 2010 study done at McMaster University by Burd et al. offered compelling evidence in favor of slow tempo lifting. The muscle synthesis response following unilateral leg extensions completed at 30% of 1RM performed at a 6:0:6:0 tempo to failure was compared to faster tempos of 1:0:1:0 with identical work properties. The cumulative muscle protein synthetic responses were greater in the group that trained with slow tempos to failure than the group that trained with normal tempos in work-matched conditions.
“It was indicated that greater time under tension is favorable when tempos are work-matched at an equivalent training intensity.”
The results from this study indicate a more optimal muscle building response to the time under tension group. But the normal tempo group did not train to failure while the tempo training group did, which makes extrapolating a “yes or no” answer from this data more difficult.
Though inconclusive data based on these particular training groups, it can still be said that greater time under tension, via slower tempo schemes, is more beneficial than faster tempos.
Effects of low-intensity resistance exercise with slow movement and tonic force generation on muscular function in young men
A 2005 study performed at the University of Tokyo compared the effects of slow tempo training at 50% 1RM with a 3:0:3:1 tempo to failure with 1:0:1:1 tempo at 80% 1RM under work-matched conditions to failure to shed more light on the role of tempo in the muscle building equation. At the conclusion of the 12-week training period the 3:0:3:1 group produced 5.4% gains in quadriceps hypertrophy while the 1:0:1:1 group produced 4.3% gains in quadriceps hypertrophy.
As you would have guessed, both groups made strength gains, but the 1RM slower-tempo group, turned out with more pronounced and substantial strength gains. This is not just placebo, as both groups strength trained, with the only differences being in protocols of training.
This study would have also benefitted from another group that trained with low-intensity to failure to bring more clarity to the results – once again making it difficult to extrapolate a “yes or no” answer to the slow tempo vs. normal tempo debate. This data does jive well with other findings and literature on training intensity and the hypertrophy response.
Bottom line: working with weights yields strength gains!
Early-phase muscular adaptations in response to slow-speed versus traditional resistance-training regimens
The role of varying training intensities and tempo on training adaptations was investigated by Schuenke et al. Participants were divided into four groups performing traditional strength training (80-85% 1RM), endurance training (40-60% 1RM), super slow training (40-60% 1RM) or as a sedentary control group. After six weeks of training only the strength and super-slow group had notable muscle-building results, with the difference between the two groups not being of statistical significance. The traditional strength group experienced growth across all fibre- types, whereas the superslow training group affected Type IIa and Type Ix fibres only. What is interesting is the fact that the superslow group experienced more growth than the endurance group, even though they trained in the same intensity range.
In layman’s terms, slow-tempo training is better for achieving muscular hypertrophy than is training with a higher rate of speed…
The purpose of these cases that we’re discussing??
They provide evidence to support the theory that perhaps hypertrophy isn’t all about the big weights. Which opens up a multitude of other questions related to the importance of training intensity and other programming variables.
Tempo training seems to affect our protein synthesis mechanism in a positive way, as these studies showed, in one way or another. There is, however, plenty of literature AGAINST tempo training. But why oh why?! I dono, but there is literature showing that slower-tempo training leads to decreased work, decreased power output, and reduced strength and power gains…
Most importantly, the data suggests that rep tempo is largely irrelevant when training to fatigue. Although utilizing tempo training will allow for comparative gains in hypertrophy to normal tempo, we must also recognize the impact that these lower intensities have on strength gains. In a much larger sense, the current research suggests that skeletal muscle hypertrophy does not appear to be mediated by exercise intensity, and that exercise volume appears to be much more important than intensity
The jury on tempo tweaking is still out (funnily enough), as some studies show tempo manipulation is beneficial, with other studies showing certain tempo changes make us go backwards. Fast-tempo training and slow-tempo training seem to both have their pros and cons, as with anything.
My take on the tempo training debate is that it does have some benefits, but these benefits are negated by the diminished work volumes, power output and strength and power gains. Staying within a range of 6-12 reps per set with rest intervals of 60-90 seconds, varying exercises, and using periodization to avoid overtraining appears to be a much more intelligent way to go about hypertrophy program design. As for the tempos, staying in speeds between 1-3 seconds on the concentric and 2-4 seconds on the eccentric appears to be optimal. Although I personally like to stay on the lower end of those scales. So does a 3 second eccentric make a difference to a 4 second eccentric? The research says not.
As we discussed in our own Tempo article, along with most of our exercise-related articles, it is important to do alot of guess-and-check, and trial-and-error, to determine what kind of training protocols stimulate the greatest growth and give the greatest gains. Tempo training can be negative if done wrong, but tempo training can also provide some of the best strength gains you’ve ever seen. It’s not possible to say “do this” or “do that,” but it IS possible to learn all you can about these kinds of parameters, and see what you can do about implementing them into your OWN program, and go from there…