Methods and Benefits of a Tempo Bench


Sebastian Padilla

Timing is Everything

Let’s bench…but slower. I’m serious, benching slower can majorly improve your lifting! How many times have you seen a lifter drop the bar on their chest at the speed of light just to have the bar come back up painfully slow or not even come back up at all?

Contrary to popular belief, dropping the bar really fast on your chest does not mean the bar will go up as fast. If anything, it hinders your ability to maintain tension on the descent and in turn compromises proper positioning. 

Why You Can’t Rush Your Lift

Going fast on the descent doesn’t work for most training styles, but especially not for powerlifting. For powerlifting purposes, your bench press needs to have a distinctive pause at the bottom of the rep at the chest. The key here is that the pause is not a set amount of time, but a requirement that needs to be met in order to receive a press command from the head judge. This is where lowering the bar slowly helps maintain more tension and just as importantly helps get a fast press command in a powerlifting competition. 

Variations of the Tempo Bench

Slowed Descent

How do you practice a slower descent? The most common way to practice this slower descent is to 3:1:1 tempo bench. This means that you will take 3 seconds on the way down, 1-second pause on the chest, and about a second (or just your regular speed) on the way up. 

Slowing down at the beginning phase of the movement allows you to exaggerate the descent and forces you to maintain tension and an optimal bar path. This tempo bench press can be done in conjunction with your competition bench press training or during separate sessions. 

Slowed Ascent 

What if you have a controlled descent but still get out of position on the ascent? To address this issue you could do the opposite with a 1:1:3 tempo bench press. This means a normal speed descent (as long as it’s controlled), a 1-second pause on the chest, and a full 3 seconds on the way up. This forces you to find the most efficient position and bar path by extending the time under tension. 

Tempo Benching During Extra an Pressing Day 

What if your technique is pretty solid? Well if technique is no longer a problem you may consider using a tempo bench press when adding an extra pressing day in order to limit the amount of weight you can use during that session. 

Let’s say you bench heavy on Mondays, and do volume work on Fridays but after a few months, your bench has stalled. Logically it follows that adding an extra pressing day might help you break that plateau. You would be right, but here is the question: Are you able to recover from three bench sessions per week?  You might be able to for a few weeks, but after a while you find nagging aches and pains that come with benching that often. 

Here’s where tempo bench press can help. You can substitute the extra bench day for a tempo bench that is still challenging due to the tempo but limits the amount of weight you can use - and therefore doesn’t beat you up as much.  

Wrapping Up

So now you know why and how to properly pick the tempo bench that is right for you. Also remember that even if your technique is solid, the tempo bench press might be a useful tool to mitigate fatigue while still enhancing your performance. 

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Alex Gaynor


Sebastian Padilla


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