Tempo training: how to maximise muscle gain and fat loss
When you've hit a wall with your gym sessions, trying out tempo training can trigger new growth
Tempo training involves adding a set tempo or speed into your training to help you build more muscle, improve strength or aid fat loss.
Lewis Gaffney, personal trainer at PureGym, says:
"It's about the speed at which you perform your reps. It’s not just what you’re doing but how you’re doing it. Next time you go to the gym and train weights, ask yourself, how fast or slow are you performing your reps, and are you working the speed to your advantage?"
The benefits of tempo training go beyond mere muscle size and fat burning. It can help:
- Improve your technique
- Identify weaknesses when performing a lift
- Build eccentric strength (great for injury prevention)
Understanding time under tension
It’s important to understand that tempo training works due to 'time under tension' (TUT).
Gaffney says: "Time under tension can be defined as the time muscle groups are subject to a load during an exercise set.
"Different times under tension elicit slightly different results. For example, if your goal is to build muscle mass then as a rule of thumb the TUT you would want to aim for is sets lasting 30-40 seconds, regardless of the number of reps you’re doing.
"However if you’re goal is to lose fat, then you would want to aim for a TUT between 45-75 seconds."
What does tempo training look like?
Tempo can be broken down into four separate parts - so you will often see it written down as four separate numbers (for example: 3010). Each of the numbers represent a different portion of the movement.
If you're confused then don't be. Gaffney outlines what they mean:
1) "The first number represents the eccentric component of the movement (the lowering part in which we control a weight against gravity). An example of this is the downward phase in a bench press movement.
2) "The second number represents the pause in the stretched position of a movement. For example, a pause at the bottom of the squat position. Quick tip: unless you are training specifically for strength, the majority of the time you will see this written as 0.
3) "The third number in the sequence represents the concentric part (and is often the only part people think of). This part of the movement is the lifting phase, where we work against gravity to lift weight. For example, pulling up on a deadlift.
4) "The final number represents the pause in the contracted/shortened part of the movement. This number is also often written as 0, apart from when look at pulling movements - such as rows or facepulls."
The right way to use tempo training depends on your overall training goal.
Tempo training for fat loss
If your goal is fat loss the ideal time under tension to use when weight training is 45-75 seconds.
Gaffney says: "For example, suppose you have 15 squats in your programme. To target fat loss, you can use a tempo of 3010 which gives us a TUT of 60 seconds.
"This is within the range that you are aiming for. This would look like 3 seconds for the lowering phase, no pause, 1 second up, 0 pause at the top so it would take you 4 seconds to complete a repetition.
"Multiply that by 15 reps and you get 60 seconds to complete a set."
Tempo training for muscle mass
If your goal is to build muscle mass then you should aim for sets lasting around 30-40 seconds.
Gaffney says: "Training for strength or muscle mass usually falls within a smaller rep range, meaning you are more likely to have a longer time under tension.
"For example, if you are training for 5 reps in your set of squats, you can use the following tempo: 4020. This essentially means it would take you 6 seconds to perform 1 rep, and 30 seconds to complete a set, which is within the 30-40 second window.
"Your muscles are made up of different kinds of muscle fibres which may mean you want to experiment with different TUTs to see which works best for you and your goals."
This style of training isn't the easiest to get your head around at first, and it's very demanding on the body. However, when you need a refresh for your resistance training routine, tempo training is worth exploring and provides some unique benefits regardless of your goal.
Read more on how squats burn more calories than any other exercise