Illustration showing a bodybuilder lifting weights explosively and then lowering them slowly and under control.

Lifting Tempo Guide: How Fast Should You Lift & Lower Weights?

If you lift weights slowly, you can keep tension on your muscles for longer, but you won’t be able to lift as heavy.

If you lift weights with a normal tempo, you can lift more weight, but you won’t be keeping tension on your muscles for as long.

If you lift weights fast, you’ll engage more muscle mass and increase your performance, but you’ll also increase momentum, and it will be harder to maintain a strong mind-muscle connection.

So, how fast should you be lifting and lowering weights? And how should your lifting tempo change if you’re training for strength, athletic performance, or muscle size?

Illustration of a skinny guy bulking up.

Video Version

If you’d rather watch than read, we’ve got a YouTube video covering everything you need to know about how lifting tempo affects strength, performance, and muscle growth:

Or, if you want to dive a bit deeper, we’ve included a couple of extra details and nuances in the article.

Is Lifting Slowly Good for Gaining Muscle?

If you lift weights slowly, you can keep tension on your muscles for longer, which is thought to be good for stimulating muscle growth. But lifting slowly reduces performance in a given repetition range, forcing you to lift lighter weights, and thus reducing the magnitude of that tension.

Slowing things down isn’t an advantage, it’s a tradeoff. You get more time under tension, but you also get less tension. Usually, the drop in performance is severe enough that you actually wind up getting less total tension on your muscles with every set. It winds up being a net negative.

A graph showing the results of a study comparing a slow reps against a faster lifting tempo for muscle growth.

For instance, in this 2012 study by Schuenke and colleagues, the group lifting slowly gained less than a third as much muscle as the group lifting with a normal tempo (study). To be fair, though, they were lifting very slowly. It took them 10 seconds to lift the weight up. Most people who slow their reps down to improve their mind-muscle connection aren’t lifting that slowly, so losses in muscle growth wouldn’t be as severe (if they even exist at all).

Is Lifting With a Normal Tempo Better for Building Muscle?

If you lift with a normal tempo, you’ll be able to lift more weight in a given rep range, increasing the total amount of tension on your muscles every set. It’s great for gaining muscle size.

In a 2021 systematic review by Wilk and colleagues, they looked at every relevant study, and they found very little difference in muscle growth when doing reps lasting anywhere from around 2–9 seconds (study). That gives you quite a lot of freedom to experiment.

Illustration showing how to do chin-ups to build muscle in the upper back and biceps.

But that 2–9 second tempo doesn’t differentiate between the time we spend lifting the weight versus lowering it. If we dig a bit deeper, it looks like we might be able to get even better results if we lift the weights faster and lower the weights more slowly. That gives us the same total time under tension, but we’re spending less time lifting the weight, more time lowering it.

Is Lifting Explosively Better for Gaining Strength & Power?

Force is calculated by multiplying mass × acceleration. So one way to increase the amount of force on your muscles is to lift heavier weights. This is the idea underpinning heavy strength training. Another way to increase force is to increase acceleration—to lift the weights faster, more explosively.

If you lift the weights up as fast as you can, you can maximize force production by maximizing acceleration, fully engaging your muscles right from the beginning of your very first rep. This holds true even when lifting in moderate rep ranges. And when you learn to engage all of your motor units all at once, your maximal strength and speed go way up. You can lift heavier weights, jump higher, punch harder, and sprint faster.

This is the whole idea behind plyometrics and Olympic weightlifting. The idea is to teach explosiveness and power. The same is true in strength sports. You’ll see powerlifters doing “speed work” where they focus on lifting weights as quickly and powerfully as they can. In fact, even when powerlifters lift heavy weights in low rep ranges, they’re still trying to move those weights as fast as possible.

Graph showing that lifting with an explosive tempo causes twice as much strength gain as lifting more slowly.

In a study by González-Badillo and colleagues, the participants lifting explosively added twice as much to their bench press 1-rep max as the group lifting with a steadier tempo (study). If you care about strength and performance, then, there’s a strong case to be made for lifting explosively.

What’s the Best Lifting Tempo for Gaining Muscle Mass?

If we look at the overall body of research, it seems that intentionally lifting slowly reduces performance, reducing total tension on your muscles every set, and thus reducing muscle growth. But if you lower the weights a little bit more slowly, performance doesn’t decrease by nearly as much (if at all). You’ll still be able to lift heavy weights, and you’ll also get some extra time under tension, which might improve muscle growth.

We also see some pretty nice strength and performance benefits from lifting explosively. But how does lifting explosively affect muscle growth? After all, lifting explosively means lifting with more momentum. Plus, it can make it harder to focus on establishing a strong mind-muscle connection. You become more focused on performance than tension and connection. That’s blasphemy in the bodybuilding world. They’ll kick you right out.

Cartoon of a bodybuilding doing biceps curls to build bigger arms.

But lifting explosively may actually increase muscle growth by quite a lot! There isn’t much research to confirm these findings, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in it yet, but in a study by Nogueira and colleagues, the group lifting more explosively got twice as much biceps growth as the group lifting with a steady tempo (study).

A graph showing that lifting with an explosive tempo causes twice as much muscle hypertrophy.

(The study measured muscle growth in both the biceps and quads. The group lifting explosively gained twice as much muscle in their quads, too. But it was a small study. The difference in quad size didn’t reach statistical significance.)

This study raises the question of why lifting explosively might be better for building muscle. Well, first of all, you get way better muscle activation. You can engage all of your muscle fibres right from the beginning of the first rep of the first set, even when lifting in a moderate rep range.

Consider the idea of “effective reps,” where only the hard reps at the end of a tough set are said to be challenging enough to provoke muscle growth. But if you lift explosively, you can put in your full effort right from the beginning of every set, potentially solving that problem.

Another possible advantage is that lifting explosively improves the strength curve of most free-weight exercises—squats, bench presses, deadlifts, chin-ups, dumbbell rows, overhead presses, barbell curls, and so on—challenging our muscles at longer muscle lengths.

Plus, lifting explosively tends to maximize performance. It could be that maximizing your performance is better for stimulating muscle growth, not just for developing strength and athleticism.

Summary

The main reason people lift explosively is to gain more strength, power, and athleticism, but there’s some research showing that it’s better for building muscle, too. As a rule of thumb, we tell people to think of accelerating the weight up—to think of lifting athletically and explosively. That way you gain strength and athleticism, and you maximize your rate of muscle growth. You don’t need to do all your sets this way, and it’s okay to keep things slow while learning a new lift, but it’s a great default lifting tempo.

Then when it comes to LOWERING the weight, just keep it under control, guiding it back into a strong starting position. You might stimulate more muscle growth if you slow the weight down a little bit, but don’t slow it down so much that it hurts your performance.

It seems that the most favorable is a combination of slower eccentric movements, paired with faster concentric movements.

Wilk and colleagues, systematic review

That’s the tempo that lines up best with the research, it’s what Marco used when coaching professional and Olympic athletes, it’s how I’ve gained nearly 70 pounds, and it’s how we’ve helped thousands of skinny clients bulk up as quickly as possible over the past decade.

Before and after photo showing Ben's weight-gain results.

Explode the weight up, then lower it back down under control so you can explode it back up again. Just don’t heave or jerk the weight when you aren’t supposed to. That can shift the emphasis away from the muscles you’re trying to train. 

And, of course, you still need to lift with good technique.

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Alright, that’s it for now. If you want more muscle-building information, we have a free bulking newsletter for skinny guys. If you want a full foundational bulking program, including a 5-month full-body workout routine, a diet guide, online coaching, and a recipe book, check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. Or, if you want a customizable intermediate bulking program, check out our Outlift Program.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained sixty pounds at 11% body fat and has nine years of experience helping over ten thousand skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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13 Comments

  1. Dave Schmitz on May 18, 2022 at 3:36 pm

    Shane and Marco,

    Solid Article.

    At 59, I am huge fan of combining free weights with bands or a constant resistance with a variable resistance.

    My intent with this “contrast training approach” is to maintain my explosiveness and performance outside the gym. (in my case golfing and multi-directional activities).

    It also allows me to continue to lift free weights by making lighter loads go further and keeping things joint friendly. My body likes to rebel with to much free weight work.

    I find it interesting that explosive training may impact muscle hypertrophy. Obviously not for myself but it could be very helpful for many of my 35 to 45 year old males that want to add muscle but struggle with free weight joint or tendon issues from years of free weight lifting.

    Obviously training explosively requires a higher level of movement integration and there is obviously age related factors to muscle atrophy but do you think it would be fair for me to share your explosive training findings with my list and specifically those with muscle hypertrophy goals.

    I think knowing that muscle growth could occur, would be motivating for many of my iron pumping 40+ guys.

    I hope this makes sense.

    Any thoughts??

    Thank

    Dave

    • Shane Duquette on May 18, 2022 at 3:47 pm

      Hey Dave. Yeah, man! Share away! That sounds great.

      The study showing extra biceps growth from lifting explosively was done on guys who were around 70 years old. I suspect the findings would apply to younger guys, too, especially since younger guys are indeed seeing better strength and performance gains from lifting faster. I definitely wouldn’t worry about getting too old for it, though 🙂

  2. Dave Schmitz on May 18, 2022 at 4:39 pm

    Will plan to share… Thank you.

  3. Aaron on May 18, 2022 at 11:56 pm

    Love this article!!!

    Seems like it has especially important implications for those of use who train at home and who don’t have access to super heavy weights. Maybe lifting moderate weight explosively can mimick lifting heavy? Is that a reasonable takeaway?

    • Shane Duquette on May 19, 2022 at 10:29 am

      Hey Aaron, yep! I think that’s fair. At least to a point.

      You can gain more maximal strength and athleticism even with weights that aren’t as heavy. Mind you, when I think about getting the benefits of both strength and hypertrophy training, I’m usually thinking of doing 6–12 reps per set instead of 1–5 reps for strength or 6–20 reps for hypertrophy. As you move up to 20, 30, or even 40 reps per set, lifting explosively can still help, and it should still help increase your performance, but your training would start to deviate from what’s ideal for gaining maximal strength and explosivity. Still great for building muscle and developing muscular endurance, though 🙂

      You can also do exercises like jump squats and clap push-ups (on an incline if you need) if you want some extra explosivity in your training.

  4. Aaron on May 19, 2022 at 10:57 am

    One related follow up question, I thought “effective reps” was a concept that B2B didn’t put a lot of stock in. Thinking of takeaways I’ve had in the past like “leave 2 in the tank” and “volume matters.” Is the effective reps analogy just meant to be one *possible* way of making the lifting tempo results more intuitive?

    • Shane Duquette on May 20, 2022 at 8:17 pm

      Mrm, I think I might not have communicated that point clearly enough. Putting full effort into each rep is one of the reasons why I don’t put much stock into the idea of effective reps. I’m totally open to changing my mind on effective reps, though. There’s a lack of evidence right now, and I’m not convinced about the logic of it, but that could change.

      Yeah, I think you can grow great while leaving 2 reps in the tank, and oftentimes that’s the best way to lift. I think you also need to push yourself sometimes to see where your limits truly lie, but leaving 1–3 reps in the tank on most sets is a good rule of thumb 🙂

      Volume matters, absolutely!

  5. Jeff on May 20, 2022 at 11:55 am

    Nice article, I’ve been focusing more on tempo lately and this will definitely help with that. Definitely important to emphasize control over speed when starting a new lift. And I think lowering the weight more slowly is also key. With certain lifts there’s a natural tendency to lower quickly without even engaging the muscles much, but when you’re aware of this and lower more slowly, you get so much more out of each rep.

    • Shane Duquette on May 20, 2022 at 8:18 pm

      Totally! I couldn’t agree more 🙂

      And thank you, man!

  6. Aaron on May 26, 2022 at 5:52 pm

    This 3 part series is really incredible work! Thanks so much!

    I had a clarifying question.. If I want to lift more explosively, will I generally need to lower the amount of weight? Or, put another way, if I’m used to lifting fast and explosively, will I be able to have a higher 1RM if I lift it slowly? Put another way, does “explosiveness” necessarily mean “speed,” or is there a way to lift something slowly but also “explosively,” say, if you are putting super high effort in even at the bottom of the lift.

    A sort of related discussion point: I’ve been trying to get into sprinting lately, and it feels like one extreme of the trade-off of how fast/explosively can you lift something vs how heavy is it. It’s kind of like explosive body weight lifts.

    My lifting experience seems to be more helpful to my sprinting than it is to my distance running. In my local, casual running club, I’m among the slowest distance runners, but among the fastest sprinters.

    And it seems to go the other way too. *After* I do a set of hard sprints I feel a lot like how I feel after deadlifting. In fact, I did a set of 100m sprints 3 days ago and my posterior chain (especially hamstrings) is still pleasantly sore, in a way that resembles DL soreness.

    • Aaron on May 26, 2022 at 5:53 pm

      Ah sorry, you did mention this explicitly already!!

    • Shane Duquette on May 27, 2022 at 7:15 pm

      Hey Aaron, thank you!

      When you lift explosively, you should be able to use more weight than when you’re slowing your reps down. Lifting explosively isn’t the same as moving the weight fast, though. It’s more about TRYING to move the weight fast. For instance, on the last rep of a set, you might not have enough strength left to move the weight very quickly at all. It might take you a few seconds to get it up. Same thing if you’re lifting close to your 1-rep max. That’s totally fine. Just try to move it as fast as you can.

      Whenever you see a powerlifter grinding for a few seconds during a competition, they’re usually lifting as fast as they can, and they’re lifting the most weight they can possibly manage. It’s quite explosive but it’s also very slow.

      Yep! Sprinting is explosive. So are most sports. And you can do explosive bodyweight stuff like muscle-ups, clap push-ups, jump squats, and so on. Those movements are great.

      Marco is a big fan of sprinting, too. It’s an awesome way to exercise and a super cool skill to develop. Not bad for building muscle, either!

      • Aaron on May 29, 2022 at 9:05 am

        Thanks!! That’s super helpful!!

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