Vary the amount of time you spend on each phase of an exercise to lose fat and get stronger. Called “tempo,” manipulating the time you spend on each phase of an exercise will allow you to get the most out of your training. This means you intentionally program the number of seconds it takes to raise and lower the weight. A very basic tempo for a novice trainee in the bench press would be 4 seconds down (eccentric motion), no pause at the bottom, 1 second up (concentric motion), and one second pause at the top before starting the next rep. This would be written as 4011.
If you have never counted the tempo of your exercises before, now is the time to start. A new study presented at the 2012 International Conference on Strength Training in Norway shows how programming tempo can help you lose more fat, build more muscle, and get the greatest strength gains by optimally activating the fast-twitch type II muscle fibers.
This study compared a fast tempo and a slow tempo with different loads and rep/set schemes in the bench press exercise using a group of trained young men. Researchers compared neuromuscular fatigue and lactate buildup following a 3 x 8 and a 3 x 6 set/rep scheme at 60, 70, and 80 percent of the 1 RM loads. All six volume/load conditions were tested using an explosive tempo that was performed as fast as possible, and a moderate lifting speed that was controlled.
Results showed that blood lactate buildup was significantly greater following all of the explosive lifting conditions, with the greatest lactate buildup after the 3 x 8 scheme with the 60 percent load. The 3 x 6 scheme with the 70 percent load also produced a statistically significant lactate buildup.
This reinforces the idea that you want to train with a large volume using moderately heavy loads to produce a lot of lactate, which will be superior for fat loss. In addition, it shows how important programming tempo is for body composition and that with moderate loads, an explosive tempo produced higher lactate values than a slower, controlled tempo.
The researchers note that the explosive tempo is ideal for recruiting the highest threshold motor units and stimulating the fast-twitch type II muscle fibers to induce muscle growth and strength gains. Not only will you build strength by counting tempo, as long as you train with adequate intensity in the form of moderately heavy loads and larger volume to produce lactate buildup, you can experience body composition benefits as well.
Previous studies support the value of counting tempo: A recent study that tested two tempos that resulted in either 15 seconds of time under tension (TUT) or 25 seconds of time under tension, showed that the longer TUT was best for producing a metabolic disturbance that would build muscle and burn fat. That is, the 25 seconds of TUT (a 4010 tempo) was preferable for producing metabolic stress and lactate buildup.
The take away is that you must program tempo to match your goals. In general, a greater time under tension is preferred for fat loss and muscle building. Assuming base levels of strength and hypertrophy have been achieved, you can still train for body composition and strength by using an explosive tempo with moderate loads and fairly high volume.
Read more about varying tempo with my Top Five Reasons To Vary Tempo In Your Workout.
Pareja-Blanco, F., et al. Acute Metabolic and Mechanical Response to Resistance Training Performed at Maximal Intended Vs. Half-Maximal Lifting Velocity in the Bench Press Exercise. 2012. International Conference on Strength Training. Norway: Oslo.