There seems to be a lot of interest and discussion around lifting tempo to improve muscle building recently. The purpose of this article is to give a brief insight into how tempo can affect your ability to build muscle.
There are a number of variables that can be adapted to maximize size gains- frequency, volume, load, rest periods, modality and training systems to name just a few.
Recently, the manipulation of tempo has received much popularity, with anecdotal debate (and relatively speaking a modest amount of lab research too) taking place regarding the speed that reps should be performed at in order to maximally stimulate muscle growth.
The principle of this approach is that by simply reducing lifting velocity and increasing the time spent completing each rep (also referred to as ‘time under tension’ or TUT) the target muscle can be stimulated for longer, thus increasing mechanical tension and consequently muscular development.
Research to date suggests very little evidence of the benefits of increasing TUT, and that rep durations of between 2-10 seconds provide a similar (statistically speaking) stimulus.
Furthermore, rep durations over 10 seconds (so called ‘super slow’ training) in length have even been shown to even reduce hypertrophic effects- a 6 week study measuring traditional rep speeds versus 10 second concentric-4 second eccentric speeds found increases in hypertrophy of only 11% compared to 39% for the traditional-lifting group- and that’s with a 5-fold increase in TUT!!
So, whilst being conscious of lifting speed is certainly not a bad thing, don’t believe that by lifting with the speed of a sloth you’ll achieve the size of a bull. As an emerging area of academic interest there is much to be investigated, however currently the research is equivocal – instead, focus your attention on more important variables such as volume, load and approach.