If you want to stimulate new muscle growth, you don’t need to radically modify your routine. The fix can be as simple as altering the tempo of an exercise, says BJ Gaddour C.S.C.S., aMen’s Health fitness advisor, and creator of the Lose Your Spare Tire Workout Program.
“Playing with the rate at which you move a weight triggers different training responses in your muscles,” explains Gaddour. “So if you always lift and lower at the same speed, you’re missing out on potential strength and mass gains.”
Apply the following three tempos to your favorite bodyweight moves like the pushup, split squat, or squat. Suddenly, one exercise becomes three exercises that challenge your muscles in totally different ways. (And for an entire workout based around tempo training, check out the entire Lose Your Spare Tire Program. It’s the easiest and most effective way to drop 20, 30, or even 50 pounds—and flatten your belly forever!)
Tempo Technique #1: Lower for 4 seconds, pause for one second, and then lift for one second.
You can handle more weight on the eccentric, or lowering, portion of an exercise, says Gaddour. So by lengthening the time of this phase, you can potentially recruit more muscle fibers and increase your strength gains faster than if you only concentrated on the lifting phase.
Tempo Technique #2: Lower for one second, pause for 4 seconds, and then lift for lift for one second.
This is an isometric hold at the most difficult portion of the exercise, says Gaddour. You’re pausing, so the length of your muscle doesn’t change while in a contracted position. (For instance, holding a pushup at the bottom of the move when you are hovering just a couple of inches off the floor.)
“Maintaining a fixed position increases the time your muscle is under tension, promoting muscle growth,” he says.
Tempo Technique #3: Lower for 2 seconds and lift for 2 seconds, with no pauses at the top or bottom.
During most exercises you pause at the bottom of the movement right before you reverse your direction and pause at the top to reset before starting another rep. “But this tempo takes those pauses out of the movement, so you keep your muscles under constant muscle-building tension without a break,” says Gaddour. “It makes even the easiest more much more difficult.”
Now for the real challenge: Take two exercises and alternate between them. For example, the pushup and split squat. For any of the above tempos, perform the pushup for 60 seconds, rest for 60 seconds, and then do the split squat for 60 seconds, followed by another 60-second rest. Repeat this process two more times, for a total of three sets of each exercise. As that becomes easier, increase your work time to 70 seconds and reduce your rest to 50 seconds. Continue to progress by next going to 80 seconds on and 40 seconds off, followed by 90 seconds and 30 seconds off. It’s tough, but that’s how great results happen.