I'm sure by now that many of you are familiar with the word tempo when it comes to training for fast muscle gain…Right?
No? Well, I wouldn't feel left out or get too worried about it because it is a fairly useless concept. Tempo, in the training world, is the speed at which you perform your reps in a given set. Therefore, the correct terminology should actually be "rep speed." It is typically displayed in a three-digit code. The first number represents the eccentric or lowering (also called the "negative") portion of the rep, the second number represents an isometric contraction or pause, if there is one, and the third number represents the concentric or lifting ("positive") portion of the rep. For example, if you lowered the weight in three seconds, took a two-second pause, and then lifted it in one second, this would be represented by a 321 tempo. A 404 would mean that you lowered the weight in four seconds, did not pause, and then lifted it in four seconds.
The concept of "tempo" was first brought to light back in the early 90's. Plenty of people got suckered and jumped on the bandwagon. Since then, many trainers and strength coaches have written in great lengths about "tempo" and have suggested that different "tempos" induce different training effects. They have also suggested that "tempo" is something that should be manipulated frequently.
Here's the truth…
Giving "tempo" prescriptions for mass building workouts and hoping that it will lead to fast muscle gain is a complete waste of time.
Changing the speed at which you perform your reps on a regular basis never lets you know if you are making progress or not. This is actually a great trick that some trainers use. They don't know how to get their clients stronger, so they just change the "tempo" and hope there is no way their clients will ever catch on to this ingenious little scheme. In January, you are benching with a rep speed of 505, and then in March, a 402 rep speed. Come June it's 323, etc., etc. Because the "tempo" keeps changing, so does the weight you're able to use. But how do you know if you are ever getting stronger? It's just like using way too many exercises—there is just too much variety to keep track of. There are certain variables that need to remain constant in any experiment, and that's what your training program basically is– an experiment. You are always testing what you are doing and you need to see if it's working, meaning that you're getting bigger and stronger. If your bench goes up, is it because your "tempo" was different or did you really improve your strength? With varying rep speeds, you never really know. That is one of the major reasons why the "tempo" concept is completely useless.