Varying repetition tempo is essentially changing up the speed of the concentric (muscle shortening) and eccentric (muscle lengthening) portions of the lift.
Most lifters neglect to change the speed of their reps and they usually happen to be the ones who complain about a lack of progress, boredom, and dreading doing the “same thing over and over again.” No need to fret, there are plenty of other ways to alter your lifting technique to help avoid boredom and increase strength.
It is known that focusing on the eccentric part of the lift by slowing it down and varying repetition tempo can result in positive benefits including increased strength and hypertrophy, but not many people know how to perform it correctly. Here are a few ways you can experiment with changing the tempo of your reps (all examples are using the barbell bench press as the exercise):
- Lower the weight for a count of 2 seconds, and press up for a count of 2 seconds. This is pretty basic and already how most people lift – if they’re smart.
- Lower the weight for a count of 2 seconds, pause at the bottom (without resting the bar on your chest) for 2-4 seconds, and press up for a count of 2 seconds.
- Lower the weight for a count of 4 seconds, and press up for a count of 2 seconds.
- Lower the weight for a count of 6-8 seconds, and press up for a count of 1 second. This should be done with a very light weight – something you think you can lift 15-20 times.
- Lower the weight for a count of 2 seconds, and press up for a count of 4-8 seconds. This takes much more mental focus than lowering the weight for a certain period of time and should again be done with a lighter weight. Obviously, the focus is then on the concentric portion, not the eccentric portion. This is also a great way to work on your mind-muscle connection and to improve technique.
- Use a weight that is more than your known or estimated 1 rep max. With an experienced spotter, have the spotter help lift the weight up above your chest. Slowly lower the weight, taking 6-8 seconds on the way down, and push the weight back up with the help of your spotter.
There are several other ways to vary the repetition tempo and style. I encourage you to experiment on yourself to see which tempo feels the best and results in the greatest increases in strength and/or hypertrophy. As always, if performing an exercise such as the bench press described above, have an experienced spotter nearby.
*If you’re looking to see changes in strength and/or hypertrophy, note that once you change your repetition tempo to a style above (let’s say number “4”) it will likely take 4-6 weeks of consistently lifting with that tempo to notice any physical changes. Patience my friends.*
Kelly, Stephen B., et al. “Comparison of concentric and eccentric bench press repetitions to failure.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 29.4 (2015): 1027-1032.
Kelly Jr, Stephen B. Comparison of Concentric and Eccentric Bench Press. Diss. Arizona State University, 2013.
Doan, Brandon K., et al. “Effects of increased eccentric loading on bench press 1RM.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 16.1 (2002): 9-13.