Understanding the importance of Tempo

We often hear coaches and trainers throwing around a load of numbers, but do we fully understand what they mean ...Today's blog we are talking T E M P O 

“The reason why we as coaches use tempo is to specifically control the athlete. Tempo is an important tool which can not only help the athlete learn the movement, but also develop appropriate motor patterns and body control.” 

“Slow down . . . it might be your key to avoiding injury and getting stronger”

Tempo training is not just for bodybuilders. Olympic caliber athletes from all over the world use tempo training to become stronger, faster and more powerful.

Tempo, also known as time under tension, is a programming tool which allows the coach to specifically alter and target specific results in an athletes program. Coaches who master tempo can use it to work the athlete’s position, mechanics, movement progression, metabolism, control, and absolute strength. It is critical to your success as a coach that you understand how to use tempo.

Tempo is the rate or pace in which an activity is performed. Essentially, tempo and the way it is prescribed represents how long the muscle or group of muscles is under load or tension. Manipulating tempo can change the complete intent of the training program. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you understand this concept.


understanding tempo
Muscle Contractions

So lets take a Back Squat as our example.  3 Sets. 8 Reps @31X1 Tempo.There are four stages to tempo training (Eccentric, Isometric, Concentric, Isometric), and these numbers represent each of the four stages and the time required to complete the movement.Here’s how to interpret these numbers:

understanding tempo 2
The 4 stages
  1. The First Number - The first number always refers to the time needed in the lowering (eccentric) phase of the lift, even if the movement begins with the ascending/concentric phase such as a pull-up.Using our back-squat example, the 3 will represent the amount of time (in seconds) that it should take you to descend to the bottom of the squat.

  2. The Second Number - The second number refers to the amount of time spent in the bottom position of the lift (isometric hold) – the point in which the lift transitions from lowering to ascending.
    In our back-squat example, the prescribed “1” means that the client should reach the bottom position and immediately begin their ascent. There is no pause.
    If the prescription was 32X0, the client would be expected to pause for 2 seconds at the bottom position.

  3. The Third Number - The third number refers to the ascending (concentric) phase of the lift – the amount of time it takes you to get to the top of the lift. Yes, X is not a number, but it’s one of the most prescribed tempos.
    The X signifies that the client should EXPLODE the weight up as quickly as possible. In many cases, this will not be very fast, but it is the intent that counts.

  4. The Fourth Number - The fourth number refers to how long you should pause at the top of the lift.In our back-squat example, it’s a 31X0 tempo. This means there is a zero second pause before initiating the next movement.

So why should you use all these confusing numbers?

Well there are several benefits.

  • The controlled movements create a stronger neuromuscular link improving coordination and performance of the exercise
  • There is less post muscle soreness and improved recovery post workout
  • A great tool to overcome plateaus in weights lifted
  • Increase blood flow to an injured area so slow movements are ideal for rehab
  • Burns more fat than normal workouts
  • Increase strength gains faster
  • Iron out any weaknesses you have in your strength curve (range of motion)

How can you use Tempo?

Tempo can be used to create specific muscular adaptations depending on what your goal is.

  • If you want to get stronger? Use Explosive reps
  • Want to be more explosive and jump higher? Use plyometric methods
  • Want to increase muscle mass - Use slow reps, squeezed reps, partial reps, isometric holds

If you're reading this and you're totally not following me… don't worry - If training to an exact tempo works for you, then stick with it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? However, if training to a prescriptive tempo leaves you feeling mentally drained, don’t worry – there is an alternative.

Rather than count seconds, you can control your tempo by simply thinking about slow, moderate, or fast rep speeds. In general, you should always take longer to lower a weight than lift it and you should keep momentum to a minimum to keep the tension on your muscles. Include slow, moderate, and fast rep speeds in your program but don’t be anal about counting out your tempo. You instinctively know what those words mean, and there is no need to quantify them by putting a time to them.

If you are concerned about time under tension, just time the length of your set. If it takes less than 20-seconds, do a few extra reps or slow down. If you are over 70-seconds, do fewer reps or speed up. Strength training does not need to be complicated!