I’ve always been one for taking my time in the gym and focusing on form and feel with every rep. I like it clean, not sloppy. Also, honestly, I am just too uncoordinated to get that little momentum thing going to hike up my weights for cheat reps. And, while using cheat reps is actually a totally valid way to train sometimes, turns out that my slow focus is an incredibly valuable tool, too.
When I switched my training to have a hypertrophy (muscle-size-building) focus and got my first set of workouts that included tempo work, I realized that I was already unintentionally onto something. While I never consciously thought about how long I was taking to complete my reps and sets, or focused specifically on an eccentric count or concentric squeeze, the way I was already controlling my efforts went a long way toward hypertrophy: It gave me more time under tension.
As with so many other things, there are countless ways to go about hypertrophy. There’s science and there’s bro-science, and sorting through the two you can glean that time under tension is an important factor in encouraging muscle growth.
Now, the optimal amount of time under tension for hypertrophy is anywhere between 20 and 70 seconds, but how that is achieved is open for discussion. One coach might say it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you lift. Another might say you want to be explosive. Me? I’m into slooooow.
In my personal experience and with that of countless clients, spending some time slowing it down is a great way to boost gains. An extra second or three makes a mountain of difference in both your training and your results. And placing a specific focus on the eccentric (or lowering) portion of the lift will completely change the game for you. (You’ll thank me later.)
One of the biggest reasons this attention to tempo and slow eccentrics is so special is that it allows you to really hone in on your mind-muscle connection. It may sound woo, but the mind-muscle connection has been shown to increase muscle recruitment, increasing the number of fibers recruited with each lift. That, in turn, makes for better quality contraction, and big gains.
Adding tempo work to your training is a simple (I didn’t say easy!) way to switch things up and spark growth. Do you want to do it all the time? Maybe not, because, of course, it’s important to vary your stimulus every now and then. But it’s worthwhile in not only helping you dial into your target muscles, but back into your connection with your body in the present moment.
Hey, we gym rats have learned a thing or two beyond just how to find the best light.
Check out the video below for a more in-depth look at tempo training and a killer arm workout to try for yourself.
This short, four-exercise upper-body workout is called “The Armsploder” for a reason. Perform three to four sets of 10 to 12 reps of each of the following exercises, completing each compound set before moving on to the next.
Compound Set 1:
Bodyweight Bench Triceps Dip: 3010 tempo
Dumbbell Double Skull Crusher: 3010 tempo
Compound Set 2:
Dumbbell Inclined Biceps Curl: 3011 tempo
Dumbbell Alternating Hammer Curl: 3011 tempo
Apologies in advance for the delayed-onset muscles soreness.💪🏼Here’s ya free copy of “The Armsploder,” which includes step-by-step written instructions and photo demos for each of the the exercises included in the workout.