Question of the Week: Lifting Tempos

Lifting tempos_rotator

The science behind fitness and health is wild, crazy and ever changing. One minute a study supports a particular claim, then next it’s the worst thing you could humanly do to or for yourself. Sometimes you’ll even find the same questions looming around the industry with mixed reviews, perspectives and findings. In efforts to calm the maddess, each week here at we’ll scour the Internet, tap into forums and ask our friends on Facebook and Twitter about what question in fitness we can get some firm answers to.

This week, we explain the benefits of varying you lifting speeds.

Q: Does my lifting tempo really affect my results?

A: When it comes to exercise, the most standard information will always give recommendations for sets and reps performed. As basic as this is, we can get down to the nitty-gritty and focus in on the way we actually perform our reps. Considering this can bring our results in strength and muscular development from one level to the next.  Tempo training can become very effective if we know how to apply it and what method to use when. I’m here to deliver the goods. Let’s start things off with a bit of science.

Look at your Muscles 

Most of us have heard that muscles are broken down into two main fiber types. Without getting too technical, we can simply segregate these types into fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. Knowing this, it’s good to remember that the fast twitch muscle fibers are the ones that have a much more explosive capacity. That means a higher max strength threshold and a greater propensity to kick in when intensity is in the mix. We largely rely on our fast twitch muscle fibers to move heavy things.  As for the slow twitch fibres, a lowered max strength threshold is balanced out by a greater threshold for muscular endurance. These fibres can sustain effort for prolonged periods of time.

How This Applies to Lifting Tempos

When we’re lifting weight, we have to think about our training goals to determine how we should lift the weight. We all want to build muscle, and increase our strength—so why wouldn’t we exploit our largest, strongest muscle fibers to get there? Lifting weight at a pedestrian tempo won’t get us too far to make our fast twitch fibers do as much as they can. In most exercises, being more explosive on the concentric phase (or “lifting phase”) and slowing way down on the eccentric (or “lowering phase”) will yield good results. Try a rep tempo of 30X0 for all your pressing exercises—that’s a 3-second negative phase, no pause at the bottom, explosive positive phase, and no pause at the top. This method will definitely be an ego-crusher when you realize just how much less weight can be lifted when keeping strict to this technique.

Notice, however, above I said this applies to most exercises. We can safely say that muscles that are meant to stay semi-contracted all day long, such as our upper back and postural muscles, lower back muscles, and quadriceps, will have a slightly greater distribution of slow twitch muscle fibers—the ones that give them the endurance to not tire out as easily.  When training these bad boys, it would help to incorporate extended sets, and shorter rest intervals to allow for only partial restoration of ATP—the main “instant energy source” for muscles hard at work. Use a standard lifting tempo of 1010 for exercises like pull ups, seated rows, biceps curls, and inverted rows.

Tapping into your muscles the right way is the key to maximizing your gains and making the most of the gym time that we never seem to find enough of.

About the Trainer: Lee Boyce

Lee Boyce, CPT is a strength coach based in Toronto, ON. A former Kinesiology Major, Lee competed as a sprinter and long jumper at the National level. His work has been featured in many major magazines including Men’s Health, Musclemag, TNATION, and also on national television. For more on Lee, check him out at, @coachleeboyce and Facebook.

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