Why You Shouldn't Forget To Keep A Tempo When Strength Training

It's hard to doubt the benefits of strength training. You can build a strong body, a strong heart, and a strong mind. You might be addicted to high-intensity workouts such as CrossFit, which sometimes have you racing against the clock to complete a given set of reps and weight. These can get your adrenaline and heart pumping, but there's another method of strength training that could give you a new challenge –- tempo.

Tempo might sound like another word for "fast," but it actually refers to the speed at which you're moving through a rep (via Well + Good). This involves taking a bit longer to lift a weight, perhaps three to five seconds instead of just one, in order to increase the time your muscles endure the heavy load. You might not be able to do as many reps or lift as much weight, but you're still working your muscles to failure.

Does this mean that you should abandon your traditional style of strength training? Not necessarily. Instead, you can add tempo to your strength training repertoire to develop a well-rounded fitness program and prevent injury (per Well + Good). Let's look a little closer at the benefits of traditional weight lifting versus tempo.

How tempo can affect weightlifting

According to a 2020 study in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, maximum strength of a muscle is typically measured by lifting weight through a given range of motion with proper form. That weight is your one-rep max, which is also known as 1RM. Typically 1RM is used to gauge how much you should be training. In other words, you might choose to lift 80% of your 1RM for three sets of 10 repetitions. However, how slow or fast you push the weight can affect this 1RM. This study of female athletes found that when they were required to bench press for one heavy repetition for six seconds, they couldn't lift as much weight as when they only took two seconds to lift it. The researchers concluded that the longer time the muscles are under tension, fatigue sets in and results in a lower 1RM.

A 2019 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health looked at 30 studies about tempo. The review found that the traditional low-repetition, high-weight, long-rest weight training regimen still has a benefit in building overall strength, such as the 1RM. To build muscle mass, it's more about the volume of strength training. This means that you might need to do several sets of exercises for a specific muscle group to pack on the muscle. You can still build muscle using a lower weight and slower tempo, but you'll need to complete several sets.

Choose a slower tempo if you're new to weightlifting

Tempo might be more beneficial for those who are injured or new to weight training. A 2019 study in the Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology determined that because tempo puts the muscles under tension for more time, athletes can develop better coordination of the strength training movements while also gaining strength.

A 2020 study in Frontiers in Sports and Active Living compared tempo with traditional resistance training among a team of soccer players. Although they found both training techniques equally effective, those in the slower tempo training session shaved more time off their 30-meter sprint. The researchers concluded that tempo might be better for team sports because athletes don't need as much recovery time after a tempo strength training session.

A 2021 review in Sports Medicine suggests incorporating a variety of tempos in your weight training program. Slowing down the speed of your exercise will bring important gains to your overall fitness, and the variety of speeds will continue to challenge your muscles in different ways.