Why don’t I manipulate rep tempo in my programs like other strength and hypertrophy programs?
I’ve written and recorded a lot of evidence-based content over the years on just about everything you can imagine related to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy.
I’ve also worked with thousands of men and women of all ages and circumstances and helped them get into the best shape of their lives.
That doesn’t mean you should blindly swallow everything I say, though, because let’s face it—nobody is always right about everything. And especially in fields like diet and exercise, which are constantly evolving thanks to the efforts of honest and hardworking researchers and thought leaders.
This is why I’m always happy to hear from people who disagree with me, especially when they have good arguments and evidence to back up their assertions.
Sometimes I can’t get on board with their positions, but sometimes I end up learning something, and either way, I always appreciate the discussion.
That gave me the idea for this series of podcast episodes: publicly addressing things people disagree with me on and sharing my perspective.
Think of it like a spicier version of a Q&A.
So, here’s what I’m doing:
Every couple of weeks, I’m asking my Instagram followers what they disagree with me on, and then picking the more common or interesting contentions to address here on the podcast.
And in this episode, I’ll be tackling the following . . .
- “Why don’t you periodize rep tempo in your programs?”
0:00 – Want a free meal planning tool that figures out your calories, macros, and micros, and allows you to create custom meal plans for cutting, lean gaining, and maintaining in under 5 minutes? Go to https://buylegion.com/mealplan and download the tool for free!
3:09 – Why do your programs not include rep tempo manipulation?
9:17 – How relevant is explosive training to lifestyle bodybuilders?
13:22 – What do studies say about rep tempo?
Mentioned on the Show:
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What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello there and welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for another installment of my says You series of episodes where I get people to share their disagreements with me, and then I choose things that people disagree with me on, and I address them here on the podcast and explain why my position is what it is.
Sometimes I. Maintain the disagreement. Sometimes people have misinterpreted my position, so it allows me to better explain. What I believe is true or correct, and sometimes it leads me to changing my mind a little bit at least. And so these episodes are almost like a, like a reverse q and a. And if you want to participate in this series of episodes, follow me on Instagram at Muscle for Life Fitness.
And every month or so I put up a post, eh, every month or two I put up a post asking for people to just share their disagreements with me in the comments. And then I go through all of the comments and I choose the things that I think are most interesting or that will be most helpful to people who are following me and learning from me.
And. Today’s episode is about rep tempo. So Kenneth Rusin asks, why don’t you manipulate rep tempo in your programs like other strength and hypertrophy programs? So, not an outright disagreement, but a good question and something that I am going to answer in today’s podcast. Also, how would you like a. Free meal planning tool that figures out your calories, your macros, even your micros, and then allows you to create 100% custom meal plans for cutting, lean, gaining, or maintaining in under five minutes.
Well, all you gotta do is go to buy legion.com/meal plan b u y legion.com/meal plan and download the tool. And if I may say, this tool really is fantastic. My team and I spent over six months on this thing working with an Excel wizard, and inferior versions of this are often sold for 50, 60, even a hundred dollars.
Or you have to download an app and pay every month or sign up for a weight loss service and pay every month, 10, 20, 40, 50, even $60 a month for what is essentially. In this free tool. So if you are struggling to improve your body composition, if you are struggling to lose fat or gain muscle, the right meal plan can change everything.
Dieting can go from feeling like running in the sand in a sandstorm to riding a bike on a breezy day down a hill. So again, if you want my free meal planning tool, go to buy legion.com/meal plan, bu y legion.com/meal plan. Enter your email address and you will get instant access. Okay, so why don’t my programs involve rep tempo manipulation?
They involve manipulating load, manipulating rep ranges, manipulating weeks of hard training before you deload. Why though? Do all of my programs recommend a traditional rep tempo of something around one second for the first half of an exercise, followed by a slight pause, followed by something around one second for the second half of the exercise, and I.
That can be one to two seconds really is what it normally is. It’s one to two seconds for somewhere in between there for the, for the first half, and then a slight pause, so something between zero and one second followed by the final half of the exercise in something between one and two seconds. Now I know some people they will add a fourth digit, which indicates how long you should pause after completing each rep, but that level of detail is generally unnecessary.
So most rep tempo schemes have the three numbers, the first half. The middle point and the final half, and sometimes that first half is the eccentric half, like in the case of a barbell curl where you are contracting your muscles. Sometimes it’s eccentric, like in the case of a barbell squat, where you are lengthening your quads, at least, for example.
And then the concentric flexing of the quads is the ascension, the the second half of the exercise. And there are different schemes out there, many. Rep tempo schemes are just, as I laid out, that’s considered, uh, the time proven way to lift weights. But sometimes you will be told some programs, they will tell you to lift as explosively as possible, so that will usually be indicated with an X, meaning that if you can.
Stand up in less than one second, then you should stand up in less than one second. You are supposed to move as quickly as you can, as explosively as you can, which really is generally a good rule in weightlifting That will generally help you. Get a little bit more out of each set, especially as you get deeper into a set.
In the case of a squat, for example, exploding out of the hole is a good cue. Try it next time if you don’t explicitly think about that. If you don’t, try to do that. Try it next time you’re squatting. As you get deeper into a set. As you’re getting closer to muscular failure, really try to focus on exploding upward.
And you might find that you can get an extra rep or two, uh, than you would’ve. Otherwise. Now, usually when programs involve different rep tempos, you have your normal kind of just middle of the spectrum that I mentioned earlier that I generally recommend in all of my programming, and then you’ll have the lift is.
Explosively as you can at the end of the spectrum. And then you’ll have slower rep tempos. And if you go far to the end of that spectrum, you might be told to take 3, 4, 5 seconds for the first half of the exercise. Pause for one or two seconds, followed by. 3, 4, 5 seconds for the second half of the exercise.
Or sometimes you are supposed to go very slow in the eccentric, it’s usually the eccentric, uh, portion of an exercise. So think of a, a bench press, right? So the first part of the bench press is lowering the weight. You are stretching, you are lengthening the muscles that are the prime movers. That’s the eccentric phase.
So you might be told to take 3, 4, 5 seconds lowering the bar. Touch your chest, hold it there for a second or two, and then lift explosively. That’s, uh, another type of layout or another type of rep tempo scheme. And the primary reason I don’t do any of that in my programs is I. It’s not very effective if our goal is just to gain muscle and strength as quickly as possible.
And we are not competitive weightlifters or competitive strength athletes who can benefit from some explosive work in particular just to train fast bar speeds because of course, as your bar speed slows down, you’re getting closer to failing to not being able to complete another. And there are two ways to improve your bar speed.
One is just to get stronger, and that is the primary way to increase your bar speed on a given exercise with a given amount of weight, you have to get stronger and then you can, I. Perform the exercise faster, more explosively with that weight. But you can also supplement that primary training, that primary mechanism with secondary training or with a secondary mechanism, and that is to use lighter loads.
And to intentionally lift them very quickly. And that is meant to help train your body to recruit as much muscle mass as quickly as it possibly can. And that of course, helps a lot when you are trying to lift a lot of weight. The faster you can generate bar speed, the more likely you are to complete the rep.
Think of the deadlift. And for some people, depending on their anatomy and their personal strengths, If the bar gets to their knees or slightly above their knees, for example, they are going to complete the rep. They are going to be able to lock it out. But if they can’t get the bar off the ground fast enough, and if they can’t get it to around their knees or slightly higher than their knees, They’re gonna fail the rep.
Well, in that case, if you can train to improve your strength, and that’s where most of your training focuses on and improve your ability to recruit that muscle, that strength that you have as quickly and as violently as possible, then you can get the most performance, the most output from what you’ve got now, how relevant is that?
To me, or probably you and many other people listening who are at most, maybe you could say, lifestyle bodybuilders. I’m not a competitive bodybuilder. I don’t plan on being a competitive bodybuilder. I’m not a competitive strength athlete, even though I do this stuff for a living and I do quote unquote, take it seriously.
Right. Well, it’s not very relevant. There is no good reason to include explosive training in a program that is meant to help. Amateur weightlifters gain muscle and strength and even reach the pinnacle of their genetic potential. It’s just not necessary in the same way that it is necessary or beneficial if you are simply trying to max out your squat, bench, press, and deadlift.
So that’s why I don’t include super fast training, so to speak in my programming, and I also don’t include slower. Rep training or super slow rep training because unfortunately it is at best, no better than the 1 0 1 or one to two, uh, zero to one, one to two approach that I mentioned earlier. And some research shows that it is inferior if we are looking to gain muscle and strength.
Now, why is that? Well, the. Primary reason is the slower you do an exercise with a given weight, the fewer reps you can do with it. Anybody who has tried some slow training or super slow training has experienced that. And of course, depending on how slow you go, you might get only half. Of the number of reps, or even fewer than you would at a faster tempo across, let’s say three, four, whatever, however many sets that you’re doing.
And that’s important because total reps performed with a given muscle group over a period of time. That is a major factor in muscle gain. That’s why the most effective forms of progressive overload usually start with progressing in reps first, or your total reps with a given weight goes up and then increasing weight and eventually increasing sets.
And the reason why sets are often increased last is you can only do so many hard sets. Sets taken close to muscular failure per major muscle group. Per week before you start burning out, before the wheels start falling off the ceiling for most people is probably around 20, and that also requires a lot of time.
But even if you have two plus hours a day to train, if you consistently do more than 20 hard sets per major muscle per week, or for most of your major muscle groups per week, including your lower body, eventually things. Start to hurt, and if you keep going, they start to hurt even more. Until eventually everything hurts.
All of your joints hurt. You are constantly sore, and if you keep going, you just get hurt. A repetitive stress injury or an acute injury. So anyway, coming back to slowing your rep tempo down, the major disadvantage is your total reps performed goes way down. Now, some people say that super slow training or just slow training compensates for that reduction in reps by increasing the difficulty of the reps that you do perform.
And that seems to pass the sniff test if you try to train like this because super slow sets. Are hard. They do feel harder than. Faster sets. However, studies show that slow training results in less total work done, and that then reduces the muscle and the strength building potential of the exercise. It, it reduces the effectiveness of the training.
Stimulus, and I’m not referring to just mechanical research that is then extrapolated into a theory that super slow training is less effective. That type of training has been put directly to the test in a number of studies, and they show one for one, that it produces inferior results compared to normal.
Tempo training. So for example, studies conducted by scientists at the University of Sydney and Pablo De Avida University found that people following traditional fast training on the bench press gained more strength in people who lifted with a slow tempo, despite the slow up tempo group accumulating about 50% more time under tension than the fast rep tempo group.
In one of those studies, and I mention that because people. Who advocate for slow training often refer to time under tension and how important it is and how it is a primary driver of muscle building. And by slowing your reps down, you are increasing your time under tension. And what they’re missing is that time under tension is a factor.
It does contribute to muscle building, but it is not nearly as important as the total amount of tension that muscles are generating. And that is why progressive overload focuses on. Increasing the total amount of tension that muscles can generate, and you do that of course, ultimately by adding weight to the bar or adding weight to the machine or to the dumbbell.
And if you focus on that, plus doing enough volume, then time under tension just takes care of itself. You don’t need to train specifically for more time under tension. You just have to do enough volume and make sure that you are getting stronger. Over time. So back to research on slow rep training. There was a study that was conducted by scientists at the University of Wisconsin, and they found that even in untrained people, a traditional training tempo resulted in greater strength gains in the squat.
And finally, there’s a study that was conducted by scientists at the University of Oklahoma that found that four weeks of traditional resistance training was more effective for increasing strength than slow training. And so all of that summarizes why my programs don’t prescribe different rep tempos.
And many programs that do are only doing that for marketing purposes. Keep that in mind because many people I. C. Simple programming as simplistic as inappropriately, simple as less appealing than more complex programming. And so many unscrupulous marketers use that to their advantage and make their programs a lot more complex than they need to be.
So people think that there’s a lot more thought and research and experience and effectiveness. In them. That’s also why many programs involve many different exercises, including many exotic exercises, and involve changing exercises frequently and changing rep ranges frequently, and using different progression models, and sometimes rotating through different progression models over the course of several training blocks.
So on and so forth. I think you get the idea now, a couple of asterisks. One is if Complexifying your training makes it more fun and you are not violating any of the fundamental non-negotiable tenets of effective training, then that’s one reason to maybe do some of what I just mentioned. And the other asterisk is that super slow training does have one.
Good use and something I would recommend, and that is if you are dealing with some joint issues or an injury that doesn’t completely preclude you from training, but doesn’t allow you to use your normal training weights, then you can use slow rep training to produce an effective training stimulus with a lot less weight, which of course is friendlier, uh, to your joints or to whatever is hurting.
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