We’re rounding out the last post about how to design an exercise program! We’ll be quickly discussing the value or rest periods and tempo training and whether they actually matter for strength and/or hypertrophy. This concept was originally developed by Dr. Eric Helms, you can find the original post here about the Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid and its corresponding videos. Let’s wrap up!
Rest periods are similar to dieting, there’s no best rest period time, it’s more about doing what works for you and giving yourself adequate time to recover before your next set. Contrary to popular belief, it’s likely more beneficial to make sure you have had enough time to rest as opposed to constantly making yourself work or only giving yourself half a minute even if you’re still sucking in air. Why?
When you don’t give yourself enough time to recover from your sets, you run the risk of hindering your performance for the following sets. If your program calls for squats at 85% of your 1RM for 4 reps and you only rest for a minute, you’re not likely to get the same amount of reps and only get 2 or 3, reducing your volume. You then rest again for only a minute, you’re probably going to do even worse and get only 1 or 2, further reducing your total volume. It’s not worth it to try to “beastmode” it up and keep your breathing up while doing heavy or high-volume work. Remember, you’re lifting weights, not doing cardio. The focus in the gym should be on building muscle or improving your strength, both of which require you to be well-recovered for each rep and set.
Now, there are occasions where it’s okay to decrease rest periods-by intensity. For example, if you’re pressed for time and just need to fit in as much as you can, you may need to lower he rest periods so you can fit in more volume. Another case may be when you’re finishing up your workout and doing a metabolite-accumulation exercise (BFR, supersets, ngatives, etc.) These techniques are meant to pack in a lot of volume in a short period of time and accumulate a lot of metabolic wastes and by-products in the muscle tissue. The thought behind this is that it leads to increased hypertrophy¹ (not strength). Conversely, these techniques do contribute to a lot of fatigue, and should be completed at the end of your workout. These strategies should not be implemented every workout since they do increase fatigue, they also increase potential for injury.
To conclude, give yourself enough time between sets to recover. It’s advantageous to do so because it will allow you to complete your reps and maintain your volume rather than lower your volume because you’re too tired. Less rest time may be beneficial if you’re on a time-crunch or when doing metabolite training.
Carl Juneau does a fantastic podcast on Sigma Nutrition Radio about rep ranges and other strategies with manipulating the rest periods to optimize hypertrophy.
The very last piece of the pyramid: Tempo! Tempo is simply the velocity at which you’re lifting weights from an eccentric or concentric standpoint. Honestly, there’s not a whole lot to say about it because it’s at the top of the pyramid for a reason; it’s just not that important. Sure, doing negatives every now and then may feel good and give you a good pump and burn, but you’re reducing your volume so you can increase the time under tension, mitigating the degree of hypertrophy you can obtain from that set.
Dr. Helms has a great video explaining this concept and why it’s not as important as one may think. You can check it out here.
Tempo training is an even worse idea for strength training. Think about it: your goals is to be stronger. With tempo training, you must reduce the load to lift at a slower tempo. Not only do they work completely against each other, but heavy weights near 1RM are going to determine the tempo, not you. It’s nearly impossible to control the tempo of a heavy weight because gravity is bearing down on you. If you’re focusing too much on tempo, you won’t even be able to complete the lift and run the risk of hurting yourself.
In the end, the tempo you do regularly is perfectly fine and should be the tempo that you spend most of your time doing. Just make sure it’s enough to where you’re controlling the weight on the eccentric portion (part of the lift when gravity/the weight is working with you, not against you) rather than gravity doing most of the work because let’s not forget that the eccentric portion also contributes to hypertrophy!
Tempo training is fine to do every now and then, but in the end, volume is the primary determinant of hypertrophy and drives strength gains. Don’t invest too heavily into tempo work.
Alright everyone, that’s it! Thanks so much for reading and I hope you really enjoyed my series on the Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid aka the hierarchy of what’s important for hypertrophy and strength training. If you want to read the series in order, here’s how you should do it from top to bottom:
¹Role of metabolic stress for enhancing muscle adaptations: Practical applications