Bigger Muscles, Bruised Egos
Manipulating tempo just means slowing down or speeding up the rep to change the intent or stimulus of the set you’re performing.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s talk about changing the tempo on the eccentric (lowering) phase because it has a higher degree of force production than the concentric (lifting) phase, but a lower degree of energy cost.
If you haven’t been using slow, controlled eccentrics or negatives in your training then prepare to be humbled. You will most definitely have to decrease the weights you’re using now. And that’s the big issue with a lot of guys when it comes to changing their tempo: their egos stand in the way.
Going significantly slower on the eccentric will force you to lift less at first. But fear not, ego-lifter. Within a few weeks you’ll adapt to this and be back to using your usual loading. And don’t be surprised if you end up being able to lift even more weight.
Now step back and think about that for a minute. You initially take a hit on the loading and reps, but as you adapt to the new stimulus, you get back to that level. And it’s quite possible you’ll surpass it.
That means you’ll be using your current loading for more time under tension than you previously were, and you never had to increase volume with added sets or reps. That’s efficient training. And it’ll trigger new muscle growth if you can stick to this protocol for enough weeks for adaptation to take place.
How To Do It
There are a few ways you can go about this. One is to simply lower the weights slower than what you’re doing now. Or, you can count the eccentric/lowering portion of the rep.
For example, think “slow” or “very slow.” I know, that’s rocket-science shit right there, but the verbiage you use in your mind will end up dictating just how slow you do the eccentric. If you don’t believe me, do a set thinking “controlled” and film it. Then do a set thinking “very slow” and see if the eccentric tempo doesn’t change. It most likely will.
You can also be a bit more anal and actually count the eccentric, either in your head or have your training partner do it. I’ve found counting it in my head to be distracting, but having a partner do it out loud works fine. You may find that the reverse is true.
You can also periodize slower eccentrics over the course of a training cycle to change the stimulus as you hit plateaus. This works very well if you’re diligent about it. Here’s an example:
- Weeks 1-3: Normal eccentric cadence (no tempo manipulation)
- Weeks 4-6: Three-second eccentric (controlled cadence)
- Weeks 7-9: Five-second eccentric (very slow cadence)
That’s nine weeks of stimulus change without ever adding more sets or changing movements.
Any of these phases can be stretched out if the performance gains are still coming. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. If you’re using your natural rep cadence and seeing your performance increase, wait until you go two to three workouts without any changes, then make the stimulus change using the three-second eccentric.
The gains should kick in at that point. Ride that out until they cease and move to a five-second cadence.