How fast should I be moving when I lift weights?
‘Tempo’ in weight lifting refers to the speed at which you lift a weight and the speed at which you lower a weight and is measured in seconds. Tempo is important because training the same movements with different tempos produce different results.
Most people I see lifting weights in the gym use a very fast tempo always. Why is that? Explosive movements definitely have their place in the gym especially for someone who has goals that require explosive strength (like jumping higher, a very heavy squat, bench press, snatch, etc… ). I would argue that if you are trying to get more muscular, stronger, faster, leaner, or to improve just about any other gym performance metric slow tempo training MUST be included in your program. By always training a fast or ‘explosive tempo’ you are neglecting to challenge your muscles through a full range of motion, using less energy and overall making your workouts EASIER.
A 10 lbs dumbbell does not always weigh 10 lbs. Weird thought right? There are several factors that influence how heavy a weight feels for your body such as long or short the muscles attempting to contract are, how much torque there is to the moving joint, and acceleration of the bar.
Imagine you hooked a 10lbs fish on the end of a fish scale (image above) and bounced it up and down. Because of acceleration in both directions the fish could weigh less than 0lbs on the scale on the way up and more than 20 lbs at the bottom when the scale has to catch it.
This is EXACTLY what happens to your muscles when you move a weight quickly in the gym. Let’s take a common example like bench press. If you press the bar up from your chest as fast as you can the bar becomes lighter as you pick up momentum. If you let the bar fall back down to your chest quickly with no resistance, the bar is almost weightless until your chest and shoulders have to stop the accelerated bar at the bottom; at which point it weighs much more than you intended.
The results are:
*YOU ARE MAKING THE EXERCISE EASIER
Your body wants to move weights fast. You are wired to move efficiently and use as little energy as possible to accomplish any task. Realistically most of us are at the gym to challenge our bodies; NOT to move as efficiently as possible. Becoming more muscular, leaner, and stronger all involve challenging your muscles and using lots of energy.
A fast moving bar that needs to be stopped at your chest weighs WAY more than what you loaded on it and intended to be pressing. This is incredibly strenuous on your shoulder joint and the muscles that stabilize it. Similar examples could be made for any movement being done quickly.
If you are trying to get stronger, leaner, more muscular or avoid/ rehabilitate an injury SLOW DOWN THE TEMPO. By moving weight slowly you will challenge your muscles through the entire range of motion, keep continuous tension on your muscles for a much longer period of time and use more energy.
Try using two thirds of the weight you would normally use on any given exercise for the same amount of repetitions but use a tempo of 4040. That means if you are doing a bench press you will lower the weight to your chest for 4 seconds, and press the weight back up to the start position for 4 seconds. If you are doing a squat you will take 4 seconds to sit down into the bottom of your squat, and 4 seconds to stand back up to the top. You will immediately see what you have been missing.