Why You Should Use the “4-1-1 Method” for Muscle-Building

Better lifts boil down to rep tempo. We explain.

A guy lifting at a CrossFit gym with huge dumbbells.
Strength training sessions are getting shorter, but you should still take your time with each individual move.
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We’ve gotten a lot better at economizing workout time in recent years. Strength sessions are trending quicker than ever, with trainees learning to make use of bodyweight supersets, unconventional training tools and the gym equipment that everyone else refuses to use.

Good thing, too — the latest science illustrates that exercise as short as two minutes can offer a robust tailwind in the longevity department. We’re also more likely to stick to workout routines on the shorter, more approachable side.

But while it’s ideal to taper a workout’s all-inclusive runtime, the individual moves within that workout shouldn’t be rushed. That’s especially pertinent in the realm of strength training, where sticking to a thoughtful tempo range can have a tangible impact on muscle growth. No worries if you’ve never thought about this before and generally just huck an EZ-bar up to your chest with whatever power and speed you can muster. There’s a simple cadence you can implement into your very next lift. It’s called the 4-1-1 method.

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4-1-1 method

These numbers represent the “tempo” of your rep: four seconds for the eccentric (lowering) phase, a one-second pause and one second for the concentric (lifting) phase. This focus on time-under-tension (TUT) and eccentric lowering provides several benefits, including increased muscle fiber recruitment, improved muscle endurance and reduced risk of injury. Research suggests that really locking into that eccentric phase makes it easier to build muscle in the long run.

Rethink your weight

Once you start to focus on slowing down your reps, it’s much easier to tell whether you’ve been lifting an appropriate amount of weight. That’s because the 4-1-1 method is A) not easy and B) necessitates great form. Quicker reps like to make use of momentum (and your lower back). Don’t worry about dropping down in weight, or — if it’s a bodyweight exercise— halving your reps. That’s your body telling you what it can actually handle. With time and a commitment to progressive resistance, you’ll earn your way back to what you thought you could do in the first place.

Extra credit

If there’s one number to tinker with in the 4-1-1 method, it’s that middle one: the hold. To increase the difficulty of a move, try holding for three or four seconds. If you’re still having trouble picturing it, this YouTube video has a great tutorial.

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