What’s The Best Lifting Tempo to Use in Your Reps

Today’s post is about “Tempo”. And no we are not shifting to music! Tempo in lifting and resistance training pertains to how many seconds you do each phase of the lift: the positive (or the lifting part), the contraction at top of the move, and the negative portion (the descending part).

Most lifters would even include this in their program like (1-2-1) and sometimes they even add another number like (1-2-1-2) take note that they represent seconds that they would take to lift, contract, descend and stretch the target muscle at the bottom part respectively.

To be honest I don’t give much of a damn formulating that. I find that simply stating that if a certain program needs the weight lowered slowly, then I would say that you need to lower the weight slowly and if not then I would just say so.

I don’t want to complicate my regimens with all that 1-2-3-4-5-6 and so on! The reason why is because numbering those in is really just a waste of time and would just make any regimen look more complicated than it actually is; because one would just simply need to know what his goals are in lifting then he would know his tempo.

Now let us go to the question that led me to write this article. By the way if you have questions please feel free to comment or email me through the “contact me” form. Sometimes I just can’t think of anything and these comments and inquiries really help me get my brains working.

John asks Submitted on 2015/02/12 at 7:29 pm
Great article, what tempo would you use for this training? 1/1, 4/4?

I answered him with this:

Depends on what regimen you are doing.
5 x 5 would require the 1 second tempos, no slow cadences for 5 by 5s.

But I would typically lift the positive portion explosively then hold at top (for a second or 2 especially for isolation and cable moves) then descend the weight for at least 3 seconds.

The answer to his question is as simple as IT DEPENDS

To be honest I really don’t understand the way he put it; what is 1/1, 4/4? Why are there fractions? I don’t know. I think I should go out more. Then again I don’t number my tempo like that so I really wouldn’t know. But I do know that some people and trainers do that to describe how many seconds they would take do each phase of the lift (in this article I described each and every phase of a lift),

Now here’s the ONLY 3 things that you need to remember when trying to find what the right tempo is for you:

1) If you are lifting for muscular hypertrophy/ if you’re lifting to gain muscle- then you need to lower the weight slowly and have a cadence for that of at least 3 seconds descending. There is a scientific experiment that proves that as a fact.

The reason for that is because muscles require “Time Under Tension” to become bigger. Time under tension ensures that your muscles sustain enough “micro tears” so that your body repairs them and will make the fibres bigger and stronger.

spider curls


Studies show that slow descent or slowly and PAINFULLY lowering good poundage for reps is the best way to induce micro tears or “damage” your muscle fibers. Thus it’s a surefire way to muscle growth.

I always advice people to lift the weight as EXPLOSIVELY as possible (to recruit as much fast twitch muscle fibres as possible), then lower the weight slowly (if their goal is muscle size). But actually you can also try to even slowly lift the weight (slow positives) from time to time. This is great for increasing time under tension and injecting variety into your training.

2) If you’re lifting for athletic performance, power, or anything besides gaining slabs of muscle or for non-aesthetic reasons; then you should just drop the slow negatives. Just lift and explode as explosively as you can and lower the weight just enough so that you do so SAFELY and NOT use momentum.

So basically you still need to get it from the bottom from a dead stop and don’t ever, EVER bounce the weight from rep to rep.

Please take note that on all of these I say lift the weight as explosively as you can on the positive portion of the rep, but you would notice that it is quite impossible to move a heavy weight (or any weight that would trigger positive results) quickly to the top. But that’s given the point is to “think” of moving that weight as fast as you can. This will increase the recruitment of good ol’ fast twitch muscle fibres which will help your gains carry over to athletic performance.

Take note once again (and I can’t say this enough) that even if your goal doesn’t involve painful, slow, negatives; you still need to lower the weight “carefully” to avoid injuries especially if you’re doing “pressing” moves wherein you wouldn’t want a bar falling on your head. But preferably the negative portion should be eliminated especially for those of you training purely for quickness and power. This could be done with Olympic lifts and deadlifts ONLY if you are in a gym which has reinforced flooring and Olympic plates.

3) If you are lifting for Fat loss, which is an aesthetic concern, please refer to our section on fat loss. But basically lifting for weight loss would mostly involve slow reps and basically the same approach as lifting to gain muscle (which will make you lower the weight SLOWLY). The reason for that is because increasing your fat-free mass (lean muscles) is the best way to consume more calories every day.

Remember that the more muscle one carries, the more calories he needs just to maintain those. And don’t EVER worry about becoming “Too BIG” since if you are not training and EATING, and supplementing (with drugs and supplements) to become as huge as Ronnie Coleman, it wouldn’t happen, BROTHa!

And if IN CASE you become as big as Hulk WITHOUT giving special attention to achieve that end, and you did so by simply training and using a slow descent regimen- Please feel free to contact me and I would gladly trade my body with yours!

Since our muscle-gain programs are supposed to YES help you become bigger, but that alone will not make you look like a monster (which is a good thing). One needs years and years of pain and serious training and off course special attention to diet and nutrition (and drugs too, for top level bodybuilders ONLY).

Well I hope I did answer John’s question and again, thank you John for getting my brain to work! And I hope you’re not disappointed that I didn’t give you a series of numbers like 1-2-3-4-5-6-444541454545 etc! F## that! I will only give you guys something that you can work with, something that will not make stuff more complicated for you but can help you formulate regimens on your own. Instead of giving you a specific tempo, I will tell you WHY they formulate those tempos in the first place so you will know how to formulate your own, according to how you see fit! Now that you know, go forth and formulate your OWN tempo based on the ends that you want. Eat your eggs, people!

A-Lifter- Don't forget to leave your comment/feedback below.  If this article was helpful, I am sure our book Real Talk Muscle will help you even more in your quest for muscle gain. Check it out you can read the first few chapters as well.
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2 thoughts on “What’s The Best Lifting Tempo to Use in Your Reps

  1. Hey bud, nice articles.

    Not bouncing the weight or not using momentum is the most important stated here. You really don’t need to get anxious about how much seconds or trying to count everything. Simplicity is a must. Someone should focus more on having accurate form which is far more important.
    If your technique isn’t good you either risk yourself with injury or not get the maximum benefits. I think its better to be focused on your form, nutrition and rest rather than trying to count the seconds.

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