Researchers have shown that altering the tempo of your bench press – specifically lowering the bar more slowly and raising it faster – can push your gains to the next level.
Here we’ll talk about the study and consider how you can incorporate the researchers’ findings into your routine.
(If you haven’t already, check out our article on how a simple tweak can make bodyweight pushups much “heavier” and therefore more effective.)
Bench Press: alter the tempo for big gains
The research involved 20 subjects in their forties, all of whom had been doing weight training for between 18 and 19 years.
The researchers divided the subjects into two separate groups. The subjects in one group continued to train as they were used to, moving the weights at their own preferred speed for the bench press [SPS]. This group was used as the control group.
The experimental group, by contrast, performed bench presses at a fixed speed. The subjects pushed the weights up at 80-100 percent of their maximal speed [FPS].
The graph below shows that the upward (concentric) movement took the experimental group 0.8 seconds to perform, whereas this movement took the control group 1.3 seconds. The downward (eccentric) movement lasted 2 seconds in the experimental group and 1.5 seconds in the control group.
With regard to frequency and weight, both groups trained twice weekly for a period of three weeks, using weights that were 55 percent of their 1-rep maximum. Between sets they rested for two minutes.
For the experimental group bench press training ended when the athletes could only lift at 80 percent of their maximal speed, while the control group continued to train until the point of exhaustion.
So what happened?
After three weeks the researchers observed that the maximal strength of the control group subjects had remained constant, but that of the subjects in the experimental group had increased by a whopping 10.2 percent. In addition, the maximal speed had also increased by more in the experimental group than in the control group.
The researchers believe that speeding up the concentric movement resulted in the muscle tissue receiving stronger electrical impulses from the nervous system, which in turn caused more muscle fibres to contract and therefore develop. The results are certainly striking.
If you’re looking to try to incorporate this into your workouts, we suggest using lighter weights. If you go too heavy, you won’t be able to control the tempo in the proper manner; instead, you’ll be struggling just to lower and then get the weight back up, by any means necessary.
Stick to 55-70% of your 1-rep max and perform sets of up to 10 reps.
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