An often overlooked factor, but a very important one, is the best rep speed when lifting weights.
You’ll get various answers depending on who you talk to.
I’ve even heard some “experts” say how focusing on this part of your workout routine isn’t nearly as important as everything else.
I find that silly because rep speed and time under tension is a very important part of the workout puzzle.
It’s one of the major factors that gets your muscles to WORK, which is what makes them want to grow.
This is why, if performed correctly, body weight exercises can be enough to build muscle mass.
I have my own opinion on rep speed, but it also depends on the type of exercise that you’re performing.
Let’s Learn How A Rep Works
You would be surprised at how many intermediate lifters don’t know how a rep works.
In fact, I can guarantee that your casual gym goer, which is most people, don’t know what you’re about to learn.
Therefore, I want you to take this information seriously. It’s going to take your fitness knowledge to the next level.
There are 4 parts to a rep: The starting position, the concentric movement, the eccentric movement, and the ending position.
1. The Starting Position: This is where the movement begins. Whether you’re working with barbells, dumbbells, machines or bodyweight, be consistent with where you begin each rep.
2. The Concentric Movement: Whether you’re pushing or pulling weight, this first movement will be the primary force that works the muscle. Pulling your body up to the bar, pushing the barbell above your chest, flexing your arms with a curl — this is often called the “positive” movement.
3. The Eccentric Movement: Often referred to as the “negative” portion of a rep. This is when you’re moving the weight to it’s final position (usually where you started). Most people ignore the effectiveness of eccentric movements. More on this later.
4. The End Position: When you complete the concentric and eccentric movements, this is where the weight/your body will finish. Usually the same position as where you started, but not always.
As stated above, most exercises will have the same start/end position.
However, there are several exercises that exist which have a different ending position. The eccentric movement is very important for these particular exercises.
Now that you know all about the structure of a rep, let’s learn about speed and time under tension.
Rep Speed and Time Under Tension
The Rep Speed is pretty self-explanatory: it’s simply the speed in which you perform the movement.
However, there are multiple parts to a rep (which you learned about above). All four of these parts could have a different speed (or tempo).
Let’s use a bench press to give you an example of how this works:
One of my favorite ways to perform the bench press is to have a fast-moving concentric movement followed by a slow-moving eccentric.
In other words, I’ll push the bar up in an explosive manner (with solid form).
I will then bring the bar back down to it’s starting position much slower.
Time Under Tension also applies here because the longer it takes you to perform the set, the harder your body has to work.
Most people push the bar up and lower it down immediately.
But, if you want to make your bench pressing more challenging, try holding the bar at the top of the movement for 2 or 3 seconds before lowering it down again (in a slow speed).
You can also hold the bar in the starting position for a longer amount of time.
Generally speaking, the length of time that it takes you to complete a set is the time under tension.
Understanding rep speed and time under tension will help you understand how muscles can build and grow without lifting heavy weights.
At the end of the day, muscle growth (hypertrophy) happens when your muscles have been worked through tension and you are consuming enough calories.
Time Under Tension Is More Important Than You Realize
I think one of the big differences that separates advanced lifters from novice lifters is this:
Understanding that the amount of weight you lift doesn’t really matter if you’re not creating the necessary stress and tension on the muscles.
You can get big and grow strong using just body weight exercises. I’ve seen people do this over and over again.
If you do enough pulling and pushing movements with just your bodyweight, you will stress the muscles enough to stimulate the growing process.
Will you ever grow to be the size of those huge bodybuilders you see online?
Probably not, but this is Lean Warriors — not hulk warriors (though that would be a cool brand, but watch out for Marvel coming down your azz).
By understanding the importance of rep speed and time under tension.
Try doing a pull-up where you perform the first part of the movement at a quick speed, but then you slowly lower yourself back down.
You’ll be surprised at how difficult it is to perform just 10 of these. And, I promise that your giving your arms and back an amazing workout.
People will constantly talk to you about the amount of weight and reps you should be doing in the gym.
But, none of that matters if your reps are crap. None of it matters if you have poor form and you’re not making much progress.
Therefore, it’s most important that you spend your time making sure your form is flawless for whatever exercises you’re going to do.
What Is The Best Rep Speed/Tempo To Build Muscle?
I don’t want to overcomplicate things, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend that the rep speed you use doesn’t matter.
It most definitely matters if you want the best results for building muscle.
If your focus is strength gains, then the rep speed isn’t going to matter so much since your goal is to move the weight no matter how long it takes.
But, to maximize hypertrophy, you’ll want to utilize a rep speed that works your muscles to the best of their ability.
Whether it’s pausing at the top or bottom, pushing or pulling at a fast/slow pace — there are a number of ways that can push the exercise to the next level.
As an example, one of the best exercises you can do is a bodyweight dip with a fast concentric motion followed by a slow eccentric.
What this means is that you push your body up as fast as possible, then slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position.
Combine this dip with the pull-up I mentioned above and you’ll have an amazing upper body workout using just these two exercises.
At the end of the day, the best rep speed will depend entirely on what your goals are.
Strength gainers won’t worry too much about the rep speed since you are focused on low rep, high weight.
To make your higher rep exercises more effective, pay attention to your form and the rep speed.
What I Recommend For Rep Speed and Time Under Tension
As mentioned above, it’s going to depend on what your actual physical fitness goals are.
If your goal is to get lean and have that warrior look, you can easily accomplish this through bodyweight exercises and a fat burning diet.
You don’t need much cardio when you are doing bodyweight workouts.
If your goal is to get really strong, then you will most likely be lifting heavy weights with low reps.
If your goal is to build muscle as quick as possible, then you’ll want to eat in a caloric surplus and use rep speeds that greatly work the muscles.
Focus on the Eccentric
To take your exercises to the next level, focus on making your eccentric movement last 2-3 times longer than the concentric movement.
For example, if it takes you 1 second to push the bar above your chest, spend the next 3 seconds lowering it back down.
You can also choose to hold the bar at the top of the press for a second or two for extra stress on the muscles.
Performing 10 reps in a controlled manner is much more effective than going up and down, up and down, up and down as quick as possible.
Your Concentric Movement Should Be Explosive
I personally feel that the first part of the movement should be an explosive one.
Let’s say you found yourself in battle with an individual (we are warriors here after all).
If you were to push this person off of you, you wouldn’t slowly push him off — you would explosively shove him off of you as quick as possible.
This is how I see the concentric movements — you are using explosive energy to push or pull the object.
Just be careful that you don’t lock out your joints as this could cause some pain (which is why it’s important to focus on lighter weights as a beginner until you know the form).
There are dozens of ways to perform exercises. Figuring out the best rep speed and time under tension is something that will come with experience.
I didn’t talk much about pause reps, but these can be brutally effective for building muscle. Be sure to research these to add to your arsenal.
As I mention in my biggest workout mistakes guide, don’t be one of those people who hit the gym for years and still look the same.
Continue to learn about fitness. Spend time researching and applying. You’ll be light years ahead of all these 5-year novices who actually look worse as the years fly by.
As you get your diet under control and focus on lifting the correct way, you’ll transform your body into the Lean Warrior look within a matter of months.