Is your Rep Speed KILLING your gains?

One of the questions I get most regularly on my site has to do with rep speed – one of the most underestimated and little-understood variables to building big muscles.

“Should I be training fast?”

“Should my reps be explosive?”

“What tempo should I use?”

“Should I vary my tempo?”

“How often should I vary tempo?”

“How much rest between sets?”

Any of these questions sound like something you have asked yourself in the past?

Then do not miss this!

5 things you need to know about tempo:

1) Light weights WILL make you weak.

2 ) Slow concentrics WILL make you weak.

3) If your goal is to constantly build muscle, you must vary tempo often. This is one of the best known ways to recruit different muscle fiber types (IA, IIA, IIB)

4) Heavy eccentrics WILL make you strong, AND big.

5 ) If you’re training for hypertrophy(building muscle) Time Under Tension(TUT) is something that you MUST be aware of and optimize.

(These will all be explained below)

If you’re reading this, chances are you either really want to build some muscle, or you have some sadistic addiction to reading painfully boring irrelevant information and need to find a new hobby. Either way I’ll try to give it to you so that it’s simple enough to apply immediately and get you on the fast track to building some muscle.

For those of us that want to build muscle, its important to realize that building muscle is a continuous, never ending process. It doesn’t ever start or stop, it is always ongoing. The trick for us, is to make sure its always going in the direction we want it to, building up and getting bigger!

To ensure we are always growing, it is important to realize what factors govern growth. To build muscle, we must subject it to a new stimulus (something it is not used to), and ideally do it enough times that it signals the brain to say “Hey, this is going to be a regular thing, maybe we should start building this muscle up!”

As most of you know, the body contains different muscle fiber types. For the sake of this article, lets keep it simple and say “fast twitch(IIa/IIb)” and “slow twitch(I)”.

The body uses Type II muscle fibers for anything requiring fast response, or heavy loads. If you throw a how bunch of weight on a bar, or lift your refrigerator, your body is going to use these muscle fibers.

If you’re lifting your beer to your mouth, or curling your arm to apply your hair gel, your body is using slow twitch fibers.

Fast twitch fibers may also sometimes be referred to as “high threshold” because of the simple fact that it takes a little more to get them to work. They’re not working unless you’re doing something fast, or heavy. Remember: fast and heavy are really the same thing as far as your muscles know! Muscles only know tension. Fast twitch muscles are your body’s way of dealing with anything that requires strength and speed, and therefore in order for it to build these up, you must lift heavy things, or perform activities with higher velocity. Simple enough?

“Low threshold” fibers are the slow twitch fibers and are much less likely to grow. They’re really intended to perform simple, basic activities and things that are more endurance based. For instance, any sets that last longer than two minutes.

Now that you have a very basic understanding of how muscle work, I will tie in how this all applies to you, and explain the 5 points above.

1) Light weights WILL make you weak.

Using light weight too often actually slows the speed of neural firing and will slow the speed of muscular contraction. The end result is a weaker you. This is also what happens when you do cardio.

2) Slow concentrics WILL make you weak.

Many of you are familiar with the training method of “super slows”, pioneered in the 1990’s and known for creating obscene amounts of lactic acid, which many people believed correlated with muscle growth. NOPE! There is very little correlation.

The logic was to increase TUT and therefore increase muscle growth. Well, could be effective, but will also make you weak as a kitten because of the same reasons mentioned above.
If you want to increase TUT, you are MUCH better off using slow eccentrics (negatives) and maintaining explosive concentrics.

3) If your goal is to constantly be building muscle, you must vary tempo often. This is one of the best known ways to recruit different muscle fiber types (IA, IIA, IIB)

It is advantageous to change the rep tempo of your workouts every 3-6 weeks.

Some great examples for hypertrophy are 4010, 6010, 4111, 4021.
If strength is your primary goal, tempo would be different than the above, but these can certainly be incorporated.

What does 4010 mean on the gym floor?

4 is the eccentric portion or the negative.

0 is the bottom portion in a stretched position

1 is the concentric or lifting portion

0 is the contracted position

4) Heavy eccentrics WILL make you strong, AND big.

You are actually 150% stronger on the eccentric phase of most lifts, than you are on the concentric. Eccentrics are also known to cause greater micro trauma to the muscle and the more muscle damage means your body must synthesize more protein to repair it!

5) If you’re training for hypertrophy(building muscle) Time Under Tension(TUT) is something that you MUST be aware of and optimize.

The optimal amount of time under tension for building muscle is something that is very important to note and keep track of. If your sets are too short, you’re most likely building strength and doing little for building muscle. If they’re too long, you’ll be training a different set of muscle fibers and you wont be growing optimally.

From my experience, a forty second set is the optimal amount of TUT to build muscle. What does this mean? My favorite tempo is 4010, (five-second repetition) and eight reps per set (forty-second TUT). Try to stay around this TUT as often as possible. Getting up to sixty seconds is also very acceptable and effective (by talley). Any less than thirty seconds and you’re likely building more strength than muscle. This is the amount of time a set lasts from the instant you begin moving a weight, to the time it stops. Optimal time under tension range for hypertrophy is thirty to sixty seconds a set.

It is also important to note that this TUT range is meant to refer to complete muscular failure or exhaustion within this time. This does not mean you stop a set that you could have easily extended well beyond sixty seconds just because the time range was up. If this is the case, its time to up the weight. Try to keep the weight as heavy as possible within this range.

Extended sets are an excellent way to take a muscle from perceived point of failure with a given weight, decrease the weight and continue the set. In this case, the extended TUT is very advantageous because there are numerous points of perceived muscular failure!

I trust this helps to improve your understanding of what you should be doing in the gym. Too many people waste their time not knowing if they have done enough, if they should do more, are they doing the right things, etc.

Keep pushing hard and push beyond your mental limits.

If you are interested in learning exactly how to maximize the effectiveness of your workouts by incorporating this under-utilized training variable, tempo, be sure to check out this step-by-step forty-day muscle building

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