This is the follow-up post to What is the Best Rep Range. If you want to know the details behind each of the groups of rep ranges, 1-5, 6-12, and 13+, then I suggest that you start out reading that post first.
Everything I said in the last post works exactly how it’s supposed to, but only if you perform each actual rep correctly. In my opinion, how you actually go about performing each rep is one of the most influential factors of how productive your workout actually was.
If you go to any gym, I’m sure that you’ll see people who just don’t know how to lift in a way that will maximize their results. You’ll see people swinging the weight back and fourth, completely using momentum (and not their muscles) to move the weight. They might also completely focus on the concentric part of the lift (the part of the lift when you are exerting the most force, as in the pushing part for a bench press or the pulling part for a row), but then let the weight just fall during the eccentric part of the lift.
Charles Poliquin popularized a theory that he called Time Under Tension (TUT). Basically, he said that people should not worry
about how many reps they complete, instead they should only worry about the time it takes them to complete one set. He said this is because the body does not know how many reps you are completing, it only knows how long it is exerting force for. Many people started to accept this theory because they realized that people could perform reps at different speeds. The amount of time that it takes one person to complete one rep could be drastically different than another person.
This theory makes a lot of sense, although there is one flaw. According to TUT, it wouldn’t really matter if you completed one rep or fifteen reps, as long as the one rep took the same amount of time as the fifteen reps. Even though I’m sure no one would really want to perform one rep that slowly, it is a debatable issue. So then, how do we solve that problem?
One way to solve that problem is using a correct tempo. Tempo basically means that you perform each rep at a particular speed. There is normally four parts to a tempo. The first part refers to the eccentric movement; this is the part of the movement in which you are releasing the force. The second number refers to the stretch position. This is after the eccentric movement and before the concentric movement. The third number represents the concentric movement, which is the part of the exercise in which you’re actually exerting the most amount of force. Finally, the fourth number refers to the part of the exercise in which it can no longer keep exerting force in the same direction, the contraction.
For example, the lowering part of the bench press is the eccentric movement, the part where it moves close to your chest is the stretch position, the part when you are actually pushing it back up to the top is the concentric movement, and the point at the top when you can no longer push the bar away any farther is the contracted position. An example tempo for this exercise might be 2/1/2/1. This means that it will take you 2 seconds to bring the party of chest, hold it at the bottom for one second, push it back up for 2 seconds, and hold it at the top for one second.
To conclude all this, tempo is useful because you can use it to correctly perform the type of workout that you want to. Since the eccentric movement is arguably the most important in the lift (I will write an article explaining why this is at another time) , keeping control of your tempo makes sure that you do not ignore that part of the lift.
For power workout, you should place a lot of importance on the eccentric movement, so that the tempo is something like 3/1/2/1. On other workouts, you could have a normal tempo like 2/1/2/1 or something similar. Using this method allows you to get the most out of each rep and set because of the amount of time that your muscles are placed under tension while performing the amount of reps that you want to complete.