You’ll make way more progress by focusing on mastering fewer moves with a variety of training tempos
This overlooked detail will build muscle faster and unlock your potential
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: There is no more important exercise variable than tempo.
Tempo describes the speed at which you perform a certain movement. For most gym bros, the only speed they know is fast. But a refined meathead knows that the slightest tweak to tempo can completely change the stimulus to your muscles and instantly unlock the door to a whole new world of gains. That’s why I designed some of the workouts in my new Men’s Health body transformation program, METASHRED EXTREME, around the concept.
You’ll make way more progress by focusing on mastering fewer moves with a variety of training tempos than by constantly switching up your exercises to confuse your muscles into quite frankly, little to no growth.
Here are three training tempos that I’d recommend more men (and women) incorporate into their workout programs:
Slowing down the eccentric or lowering (also called negative) portion of an exercise is one of the fastest ways to build more muscle and bulletproof your joints.
Muscle damage is one of the three primary mechanics of hypertrophy (the scientific term for muscle growth) and the research shows that accentuated eccentric training leads to greater muscle damage and strength gains than normal speed training.
And since most injuries occur during the loading or eccentric phase of movement, building stability and strength with elongated eccentrics will both prevent muscle strains and fortify your joints.
How do you apply accentuated eccentrics into your training? Try performing the lowering portion of a movement for 4 to 5 seconds, slowly and steadily stretching those muscles under load.
Yes, you’ll have to go lighter than normal but you will most certainly feel your muscles more, take pressure off of your joints, and get a better training effect this way. I guarantee it.
Whenever someone tells me they have trouble “feeling” a certain muscle group when exercising, I give them the following advice: Cut your load in half and double your time under tension. As counter-intuitive as this may seem, it’s a super effective way to wake up dormant, stubborn muscle groups.
In particular, take 4 seconds to lift the weight and 4 seconds to lower it. Including a brief pause at the bottom and top of the movement, each rep should take about 10 seconds. I recommend work periods of 2 minutes, which means you should get about 10 to 12 reps within that time frame.
Try this titillating tempo at your next workout and those dull muscles will start sizzling like a fresh serving of fajitas. But be warned: This enhanced muscle activation technique gets real spicy real quick!
Want to enhance your exercise performance immediately? Then start getting comfortable holding the finishing position of any movement. For example, pausing in the bottom of a squat or pushup or at the top of a pullup.
Most guys just blow right through each rep, relying solely on the elasticity of their joints and connective tissues to power them through. Not only does this wear you down over time, but you never really own a movement unless you can hold it with perfect form in the most challenging position.
Add pause reps to your training to start building a level of raw strength your body has never experienced. You’ll also spark new muscle growth.
Hold the finishing position for 4 full seconds before exploding back to the starting position. And don’t just hold the bottom position—tense all of your muscles and get your body as tight as possible. Keep breathing and get comfortable being uncomfortable.
I’ve created two tempo workouts, inspired by my new Men’s Health transformation program METASHRED EXTREME below: one for the upper body and one for the lower body.
If you don’t want to do the full workouts, just pick and choose exercises of your choice and plug them into your current program. You won’t regret it, even if your muscles feel otherwise!
Directions: Do each move below at the prescribed tempo for as many quality reps as you can in 2 minutes. Then rest 1 minute, and move on to the next exercise in the order outlined below.
Once you’ve completed all 5 exercises, that’s 1 round. Do 2 to 3 total rounds.
1. Single dumbbell eccentric pullover (4- to 5-second lowering)
2. Mind-muscle dumbbell incline chest press (4 seconds up, 4 seconds down)
3. Dumbbell chest-supported hammer-grip pause row (4-second pause at top)
4. Dumbbell muscle snatch to eccentric full frontal raise (4- to 5-second lowering)
5. Power bodybuilder: hang clean to push press to eccentric overhead press to eccentric hammer curl (explosive on the way up, lower slowly on the way down)
Directions: Do each move in the order listed below at the prescribed tempo for as many quality reps as you can in 2 minutes. Complete all sets for the given exercise before moving to the next exercise.
1. Miniband single-leg pause hip thrust (4-second pause at top). Do 1 to 2 sets per side with 1 minute rest between sides.
2. Eccentric Bulgarian hip hinge (4 to 5 seconds lowering). Do 1 to 2 sets per side with 1 minute rest between sides.
3. Mind-muscle Bulgarian split squat (4 seconds down, 4 seconds up). Do 1 to 2 sets per side with 1 minute rest between sides.
4. Miniband double dumbbell pause front squat (4-second pause at bottom). Do 2 to 3 sets with 1 minute rest between sets.
For more metabolic bodybuilding programs like this, check out my new METASHRED EXTREME program from Men’s Health!