You're Doing It Wrong: Exercise Tempo

STACK Expert Stan Dutton endorses more time under tension and the right tempo, and recommends an 8-exercise workout program to build muscle.

Exercise tempo

Warning: The workouts recommended below will not make you look cool or impress your friends—yet.

I've had it with people trying to improve themselves by imitating their favorite bodybuilder, powerlifter or YouTube/instagram personality. (Unless it's me. If that's the case, do it!)

The fact is, what works isn't sexy. It's simple.

First, you must select the right exercise—here is an example. Then you must look at how you're performing it. Is your exercise tempo slow and controlled or fast and rushed?

Like it or not, it's probably the latter.

Before we move on, let's clear up one thing. You're the one who's confused. Your muscles don't know 12 reps equal muscle growth and 15 reps equal toning. Your muscles don't have brains and therefore do not get confused.

Here's how—and why—you need to fix your exercise tempo.

If you want to increase your muscle mass, you must increase the time under tension (TUT) during each set. Pick a weight lighter than you would normally lift for 10 reps, and shoot for 40 to 60 seconds. This type of training can be extremely challenging, and you do not want to fail.

Let's touch on the science of why TUT works for muscle hypertrophy (i.e., muscle growth). The sarcomere, the smallest part of muscle fiber, has two types of filament: actin and myosin. Think of them as porcupine quills. Pet a porcupine in one direction and it's smooth. Pet it in the opposite direction and you're in for a totally different experience. Imagine the actin and myosin as small hooks with the same characteristics as the porcupine quills. As the muscle contracts, the smooth parts rub over each other. But as the muscle lengthens, the hooks act like the porcupine quills and lock onto each other. The slower (and longer) this happens, more hooks break and more muscle is forced to grow back stronger and larger.

My favorite way to use TUT is with 10X10 training. Doing 10 sets of 10 reps was popularized by Olympic trainer Charles Poliquin and branded as German Volume Training. And volume is right!

The exercise tempo will look like this: every rep will have a four-second eccentric (lowering) portion and an explosive concentric (raising) portion. Each set will take approximately 40 seconds to complete. Any less and you'll be doing it wrong.

Monday: Upper Body

  • A1: Bench Press - 10x10
  • A2: Pull-Ups - 10x10

Tuesday: Lower Body

  • A1: Squats - 10x10
  • A2: Physioball Hamstring Curls - 10x10

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: Upper Body

  • A1: Bodyweight Row - 10x10
  • A2: Lateral Raise - 10x10

Friday: Lower Body

  • A1: Romanian Deadlift - 10x10
  • A2: Hanging Leg Raise - 10x10

Rest 90 seconds between sets.

Did I mention this is crazy volume? It is. So make sure to follow a proper warm-up and stick to basic exercises. The flashier the exercise, the less likely it is to be effective.

Give this program a try for four to six weeks and then move into a strength block, taking your newly gained muscle mass and making it much stronger.

This program isn't sexy. You're hitting eight exercises per week for six weeks. But it's effective. Fuel your body with proper nutrition and let the gains commence.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock