Vary repetition speed for great results

December 1, 2012

It’s simple, right? Just lift the weights up and down, and you’re sure to get results. Not quite - there’s a lot more to it than that, and the speed at which you choose to move the bar will have a direct impact on the type of results you’ll get from your program. So if you’re wondering whether you should move the bar fast or slow, recent evidence seems to suggest it might be a good idea to periodically try both for best results.

Slow reps for maximum fat burn

Lifting slow and controlled is a great way to get results, because you can force your body to work through the entire range of motion of a specific exercise, keeping constant tension and pressure on the targeted muscles. This is a great technique for inexperienced lifters, because it allows them to learn proper form without placing them at risk for muscle tears and joint injuries. It’s also very valuable for experienced lifters, because studies show that slower, more deliberate repetitions stimulate a greater EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) response, which means greater fat burn for up to 48 hours after you complete your workout. Studies also suggested that lifting with slower controlled movements and taking the set to failure - till you can’t do another rep - can help build muscle by increasing the amount of protein the muscle can use to repair and grow.

Time under tension for more intense workouts

Time under tension or TUT refers to the amount of time the muscle spends under tension during a lift and is another way to increase the intensity of your workout. If you lift the weight fast, you might be able to lift more weight, but your time under tension is short, and the muscles aren’t required to work as hard. Control the weight and lift it slower, and time under tension increases and muscles are forced to work harder for longer periods of time. The important thing to remember while applying the principle of time under tension is that even though you are doing slower, more controlled movements, you must still lift weights heavy enough to feel an intense burn but light enough to perform proper form.

Faster reps for size and strength gains

Lifting heavier weights and moving the bar at a faster rate can help you build explosive strength and muscle size, because it stimulates the central nervous system and forces it to adapt to the workload. It also allows you to use larger weights you wouldn’t normally be able to handle to elicit an adaptive response in your body. However, it’s important to remember that this technique should be reserved for more experienced lifters, because lifting heavy weights at faster speeds is much more dangerous and can cause muscle tears and connective tissue injuries, and to prevent such issues, perfect form is essential.

Tempo training for plateau busting

Anyone who’s spent enough time in the gym knows the key to success is learning how to keep your body off balance. Regardless of how hard you work out, your body will eventually get used to what you’re doing, and progress will slow down. Learning how to vary your repetitions with tempo training is just one more tool in the shed that you can use to keep your workouts fresh and your body guessing. Tempo training means breaking any lift into 2-4 different parts and then timing how long you want to spend on each particular part of the movement. The following describes two different types of tempo training you can incorporate into your workouts. Give them a try when your workout needs a boost to bust a plateau so you can continue getting results.

Two-part tempo training 2-2

Two-part tempo training means breaking the lift into two different parts, the eccentric or lowering of the weight, and the concentric or lifting of the weight. To perform this type of training, simply vary the time you spend on each part. A good example would be doing a squat. To do two-part tempo training with the squat you may decide to spend 2 seconds lowering the weight into the squat position - eccentric movement - and then one second lifting the weight back up - the concentric movement.

Four-part tempo training 1-2-1-2

Four-part tempo training is basically the same as the two-part tempo training, except you add a pause at each end of the lift, giving it four different parts. A good example of four-part tempo training with the squat would be taking 2 seconds to lower the weight, pausing for one second at the bottom of the movement, taking 2 seconds to lift the weight back to the starting position and then pausing for another second before starting another repetition.

Remember, you can vary the times and speeds for tempo training to shock your muscles and challenge your body, but it’s just one more way of changing your program when you need something fresh to continue getting results.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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