Tempo Bench Press: The Purpose Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 9, 2022

The bench press is one of the primary upper body compound exercises. Its effects in targeting arm and torso muscles and its traverse and intermediary muscles are indispensable for people looking to build strength and muscle.

Incorporating tempo in performing the bench press movement, however, can make this exercise even more effective. Tempo bench press refers to altering the timing of the eccentric and concentric movements of the bench press.

The most common tempo bench press involves 3 seconds of eccentric (lowering) motion and 1 second of concentric (upward) motion, or more popularly known as 3010 tempo bench press.

What is Time Under Tension (TUT)?

bench press muscles used

Time under tension or the total amount of time the muscle is engaged during exercise is a crucial factor for muscle growth and development.

Depending on the individual's fitness goals, the time under tension should vary from 4-6 repetitions per exercise to more than 15 repetitions.

Strength training requires around 4-6 repetitions of heavy weight. Hypertrophy and fat burning require a threshold of 8-12 repetitions. Lastly, endurance training requires more than 15 repetitions of an exercise.

The difference in required repetitions is related to the total amount of time under tension.

Building strength requires the muscles to work at the highest intensity for a short period while building endurance requires the muscle to work at least 60 seconds per set. Thus, it is important to set a fitness goal before starting a fitness routine.

Aside from time under tension, the activation of the muscles during the eccentric and concentric phases of the exercise also contributes to muscle growth. Using posture and muscle control during exercise not only enhances muscle activation awareness but also contribute to muscle growth.

Many weightlifters perform the eccentric motion or the downward motion of the exercise more slowly than the concentric motion or the upward motion. Professional powerlifters perform the concentric motion as fast as possible and then perform the eccentric motion slowly.

The discovery of the different effects of timing the concentric and eccentric motion led to the acknowledgment of the benefits of "tempo" in muscle building. Tempo allows the smaller motor units to be exhausted in order to activate the larger motor units of the muscle and produce the maximum amount of force to achieve hypertrophy.

Tempo Training Explained

Tempo refers to the total amount of time that a muscle or muscle group spends under heavy load or tension. The lifting tempo can be faster or slower depending on the individual's fitness goals.

Tempo for weight lifting such as bench press appears as four consecutive numbers.

  1. The first number refers to the tempo of the eccentric (lowering) motion.
  2. The second number is the rest at the midpoint or highest or lower point of the lift.
  3. The third number is the tempo of the concentric (upward) motion.
  4. The last number is the pause before repeating the set.

Following a specific tempo when performing lifting exercises allows the lifter to feel the weight as he/she performs the eccentric motion. It allows them to have greater mind-to-muscle activation. This contributes to the strengthening of the muscles and their connective tissues.

Despite the benefits of learning and incorporating tempo in training, it remains to be one of the least understood concepts in muscle and strength building.

Learning and mastering the use of tempo allows the lifter to fully experience the exercise. It allows the body to replicate movements that are most effective in activating the muscles. It also strengthens the muscles and their connective tissues and builds better fitness foundations in order to avoid injuries when performing rigorous and stressful exercises.

Tempo Bench Press

Tempo training during the bench press or incorporating timing and tempo when performing the bench press enhances bar control. This allows the lifter to control the lift and descent of the bar more consistently where the bar always touches the same spot every repetition. Bar control also leads to greater improvement in strength and consistency since the cognitive faculty is also engaged when performing lifts.

Tempo training when bench pressing also balances three core aspects of the lift that constitutes an effective training regimen. These core aspects include speed, tightness, and control.

barbell bench press

Speed refers to the amount of time to execute a lift. Tightness refers to the amount of tension in the muscle group. Control refers to the ability of the lifter to consistently move the bar in the same direction at all times.

Tempo training allows the lifter to achieve balance among the three core aspects of the bench press. Proper tempo training teaches the lifter to use the proper speed to maximize muscle tightness and bar control. A decrease in muscle tightness or bar control means the lifter is executing each lift too quickly.

One of the most commonly used tempos for the bench press is 3010 tempo.

The 3010 bench press tempo will have 3 seconds to lower the bar towards the chest and 1 second to lift the bar back up. There are no rests in between sets and repetitions of the exercise since the midpoint and pause on top numbers are at 0.

This bench press tempo has a slow eccentric motion and a quick concentric motion. The slow concentric motion causes more muscle fibers to break and increases the energy expenditure during the workout. As a result, the muscles are rebuilt stronger and larger. This tempo is referred to as ideal for developing lean muscle mass. Similarly, the concentric motion is performed in burst motions to allow greater recruitment of intermediary muscles to develop strength and power.

The quick concentric motion is essential for powerlifting movements. However, this might not be true for other exercises and sports. As an example, marathon runners will not benefit from the tempo training of other sports because it can introduce muscle gains that can hinder their agility.

Final Thoughts

Performing a tempo bench press or incorporating tempo training when performing the bench press allows the lifter to engage both the mind and body.

Tempo training enhances the mind and body connection which not only enhances the lifting experience but also increases its effects on strength and muscle building.

Currently, the 3010 tempo bench press is one of the best tempos in activating the upper body muscles in order to gain strength and reach hypertrophy.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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