There seems to be a tempo epidemic in the gym with everyone pretty much doing the same thing. Three sets of ten reps, at an arbitrary, unconscious tempo is what I see every day. What most people don’t understand is that the speed of their lifts can heavily dictate the specific adaptations their body will make, and this may or may not be aligned with their fitness goals.
For instance, doing bicep curls at a 2-2-2-2 tempo means that you would curl upward at a two-second count, hold for two seconds at the top, lower the weight at a two-second count, and hold again for two seconds at the bottom before repeating. This specific tempo would elicit more strength and mass gains if performed in the 8-12 rep range with heavy weight, and more muscle tone if performed in the 12-15 rep range with moderately heavy weight.
What tempo should you be doing? Here are some tips for the appropriate tempos for each goal:
Strength gains are best developed with very heavy weight for lower reps (4-8) and at a faster tempo (1-0-1-0 or 2-0-2-0). If the goal is hypertrophy (mass), then more time under tension would be ideal, such as moderately heavy weight, performed for 8-12 reps, and at a slow tempo (3-3-3-3).
If your goal is fat metabolism, you could benefit from performing a workout with an eclectic mix of tempos. For example, you might begin with a stabilization endurance focused circuit, performing a slow (3-2-1-2) tempo for 12-15 reps with light to moderate weight; then progress to a strength-endurance superset where the first exercise is focused on strength (2-0-2-0 tempo, 10-12 reps) and the second on endurance (3-2-1-2 tempo, 12-15 reps); and lastly you could finish with a metabolic circuit by performing exercises quickly (1-1-1-1 or 1-0-1-0 tempos, as many reps as possible in a given duration) in a circuit fashion (3-4 exercises in a row before resting).
Every athlete would benefit from undergoing a stabilization endurance phase (4-6 weeks) to improve movement efficiency, but their fundamental pillars reside in strength, speed, agility, and quickness (reactivity). For this reason, faster tempos work best, such as moderate tempos (2-0-2-0 or 1-1-1-1) for strength, and explosive tempos (0-0-0-0 or 1-0-1-0) for speed, agility and quickness.
Regardless of your goal, tempos are important. Results aren’t achieved by going to the gym haphazardly and performing trivial workouts. For the best results, make (or find) the appropriate workout plan for your goals, with every acute variable outlined (sets, reps, tempo, intensity, rest, etc); or hire a personal trainer.