Build Muscle With The Tempo Contrast Method!


The tempo contrast method is an incredibly effective way to train for muscular hypertrophy. This method was popularized by the Canadian strength coach Christian Thibadeau.

The idea is simple: you are going to perform a set of 8-12 reps where you perform some of the reps very slowly and some of the reps very quickly.

Here is what an 8-rep set looks like using the tempo contrast method:

  • Reps 1-2: 5/0/5/0 tempo
  • Reps 3-4: 1/0/X/0 tempo
  • Reps 5-6: 5/0/5/0 tempo
  • Reps 7-8: 1/0/X/0 tempo

And here is what a 12-rep set looks like using the tempo contrast method:

  • Reps 1-2: 5/0/5/0 tempo
  • Reps 3-4: 1/0/X/0 tempo
  • Reps 5-6: 5/0/5/0 tempo
  • Reps 7-8: 1/0/X/0 tempo
  • Reps 9-10: 5/0/5/0 tempo
  • Reps 11-12: 1/0/X/0 tempo

If you are not sure what “5/0/5/0 tempo” or “1/0/X/0 tempo” mean then don’t worry, I will explain.

The phrase exercise tempo describes how quickly or slowly you move the weight during your sets. A 5/0/5/0 tempo means that you raise and lower the weight over 5 seconds. On the other hand a 1/0/X/0 tempo means that you lift the weight explosively and lower the weight over 1 second.

If you want to learn more about exercise tempo then check out the following article: Tempo Training: The Ultimate Guide!

Now let’s get back to talking about the tempo contrast method. Here is a perfect demonstration of the tempo contrast method on the standing overhead press. Check it out:

As you can see the athlete lifts and lowers the weight very slowly on the first 2 reps. Then on the 3rd and 4th reps he lifts the weights explosively. This pattern is repeated until he has performed all 8-12 reps.

So why would anyone train this way? That is a great question! The fast and slow reps have different effects on the body. When you perform them together in a single set they have a synergistic effect on muscle growth.

The Science Behind The Tempo Contrast Method

Alternating fast and slow reps gives you an unbelievable muscle pump and dramatically increases your mind-muscle connection. It also helps you to recruit / fatigue the fast-twitch muscle fibers and leads to the release of several anabolic hormones. Let me explain.

Raising and lowering a weight over 5 seconds is very difficult to do. It requires a high level of muscular control. When you do this your muscles are constantly contracted – they never get a chance to rest.

This constant contraction means that oxygen cannot enter your muscle fibers. Your body starts to tap into the fast-twitch muscle fibers which do not need as much oxygen in the first place. This constant contraction also traps lactic acid inside the muscle and leads to the release of growth factors like MGF and IGF-1.

So what happens when you start using an explosive tempo on reps 3 and 4? During your two explosive reps blood rushes into the muscle which gives you an incredible pump. The explosive reps also help you to achieve maximal muscle fiber recruitment.

Then when you switch back to the slow reps that huge volume of blood is trapped inside the muscle before it can escape!

Here is Christian Thibadeau himself talking about the science behind the tempo contrast method:

The tempo contrast method should be used during hypertrophy workouts where you are trying to build as much muscle mass as possible. There are many different ways that you could structure a hypertrophy workout using the tempo contrast method.

In this article I will give you three ideas. Let’s look at a moderate volume back / biceps workout, a low volume legs workout and a high-volume shoulder workout. Note: if you have any trouble reading these routines then check out my article on how to read a training program.

Check it out:

Medium Volume Back / Biceps Workout

  • A1: Chin ups (medium / supinated grip), 4 x 8, 5/0/5/0**, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated machine chest supported row, 4 x 12, 5/0/5/0****, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated cable rope face pull, 3 x 15, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 12, 5/0/5/0**, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: 60 degree incline cable curl, 3 x 12, 5/0/5/0**, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a tempo-contrast set. Use a 5/0/5/0 tempo on reps 1-2, a 1/0/X/0 tempo on reps 3-4, a 5/0/5/0 tempo on reps 5-6 and a 1/0/X/0 tempo on reps 7-8.

**Performed as a tempo-contrast set. Use a 5/0/5/0 tempo on reps 1-2, a 1/0/X/0 tempo on reps 3-4, a 5/0/5/0 tempo on reps 5-6, a 1/0/X/0 tempo on reps 7-8, a 5/0/5/0 tempo on reps 9-10 and a 1/0/X/0 tempo on reps 11-12.

Low Volume Lower Body Workout

  • A1: Back squat (wide stance / heels flat), 4 x 12, 5/0/5/0**, 60 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointed in), 4 x 8, 5/0/5/0**, 60 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree leg press, 4 x 15, 2/0/2/0, 30 second rest
  • B2: DB Romanian deadlift, 4 x 15, 2/0/2/0, 30 seconds rest

**Performed as a tempo-contrast set. Use a 5/0/5/0 tempo on reps 1-2, a 1/0/X/0 tempo on reps 3-4, a 5/0/5/0 tempo on reps 5-6 and a 1/0/X/0 tempo on reps 7-8.

High-Volume Shoulder Workout

  • A1: Standing barbell overhead press, 4 x 8, 5/0/5/0**, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated partial DB lateral raise****, 3 x 20-30, 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated machine lateral raise, 3 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated band pull-apart, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/1, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Reverse pec dec, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as a tempo-contrast set. Use a 5/0/5/0 tempo on reps 1-2, a 1/0/X/0 tempo on reps 3-4, a 5/0/5/0 tempo on reps 5-6 and a 1/0/X/0 tempo on reps 7-8.

****Performed through a partial range of motion. Use heavier than normal dumbbells and raise your arms up about 30 degrees before lowering them back down.

The tempo contrast method can be performed at the start or at the end of your workout. It is entirely up to you.

I recommend you use this method in your training routine once every few months. If you constantly use it in your training program then it will become less effective over time. Remember, a training routine is only as good as the time it takes you to adapt to it!

I hope you found this article on the tempo contrast method useful. I wouldn’t call it the ultimate way to train for size. However, it is a very useful tool to have in your training toolbox.

If you are stuck at a hypertrophy training plateau then I highly recommend you use the tempo contrast method for your next 2-4 weeks of training. You won’t be disappointed!

“The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen

I am the creator and owner of Revolutionary Program Design. I help advanced athletes take their training to the next level and achieve results they never imagined possible.

Recent Content