Beginners often talk about rep speed only in terms of lifting and lowering the weight. But there’s much more to a rep than up and down. Some strength coaches and trainers factor in the pause and write tempo with three numbers. The first number refers to the eccentric movement, the second number is the pause between eccentric and concentric and the third number is the concentric portion of the rep. Using the three point tempo prescription would look like this: 3-2-2.
Advanced bodybuilders would benefit greatly from taking it one step farther, separating and quantifying the stretch and the contraction instead of just the single pause. This calls for a four-point tempo prescription. For example, a standard rep in the barbell curl would have a 3-second eccentric (lowering the weight), 0 second pause in the stretch (bottom) position, a 2-second concentric and a 0 second pause in the contracted (top) position: This is denoted by a tempo prescription of 3-0-2-0
One way you can increase intensity and provide progressive overload without requiring super-heavy weights is by manipulating the speed or tempo at which you perform each exercise. For bodybuilding purposes, time under tension (TUT) for each set should generally be in the 30-70 second range. Sets lasting less than 30 seconds tend to develop speed, strength and power without maximal hypertrophy.
Time under tension is old news in the bodybuilding and strength training world, but what many people fail to consider when planning their training programs is the impact of the stretch and contraction on the effectiveness of specific exercises. They make sweeping generalizations about tempo for all exercises, even though the resistance curve of every exercise is different.
To get the highest intensity level and maximum results from every exercise requires that you analyze each exercise individually for the most efficient tempo.