I believe everyone should include tempo training in their workout routine at some point in their fitness journey. Any exercise can be performed under tempo. It is a very effective tool to help build strength and control for your compound movements like the squat and deadlift or even your Olympic lifting that require explosiveness and power. Slowing down exercises with tempo can really promote a better, more seamless lift in the long run.
By including tempo movements in your exercise routine, you will be able to fix your positional and technique weaknesses for more consistent and well-executed lifts, while simultaneously encouraging better hypertrophy and strength gains.
7 Benefits of tempo training
- TEACHES CONTROL
Tempo training essentially teaches you to slow down the movement and maintain control throughout the entire time. It means that you cannot speed through and rush through your reps just to get them finished. It also means that you are forced to completely rely on your strength and power to get through your exercise as opposed to momentum.
- BUILDS BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF MOVEMENT POSITIONS
Tempo training will allow you to move consciously and be aware of each and every part of the movement. While moving fluidly through the exercise is important and should be your end goal, being able to slow down your reps and understand where everything is positioned during each phase of the exercise is just as important. This will help you generate better technique when squatting or deadlift, for example, without the tempo sequence.
- ADDRESSES POSITIONAL WEAKNESS
There will be parts of an exercise that people do better at than others, and this varies from person to person.
For example, when it comes to the deadlift, some may find it more difficult lifting the bar off the ground while others can do that easily but struggle to lock it out. Tempo training works well in addressing these positional weaknesses. It forces you to slow down and breaks down the movement so that you can work on these specific sticking points. This way, you can work on your weaknesses to gain an overall stronger lift.
- INCREASES TIME UNDER TENSION
The faster you complete a rep of whatever exercise you are focusing on, the less time you will spend under muscle tension.
While heavier weights do have their time and place in your workout regime, increasing the time spent under tension can be beneficial in many ways. The more stress you put your muscles under, the more your muscles will be able to grow.
- DEVELOPS WORK CAPACITY
When you are slowing your movements down, you will be forced to lower the weight that you would typically lift without the tempo counts.
As tempo lifts are completed at a much lower percentage of your 1RM (one rep max), you will be able to do more reps or sets than if you were just lifting heavy. With this increased ability to perform more reps, tempo training can help to develop your work capacity by adding much more volume to your workouts. Do not worry though, if you find that tempo training means that you must lower the weight that you normally use. By executing the movement with correct technique, you will be making better progress than you would if you were performing it with a higher weight but with proper form.
- REDUCES RISK OF INJURY
As you improve your quality of movement with tempo training, your risk of injury will reduce. You will be lifting with better control, a better understanding of the mechanics of the exercise and with better technique. The slower movements will force you to really look at the weight you can lift without compromising on form and by utilizing the proper muscles, which will help you in the long run. All in all, you will be lifting safely while still making great progress.
How to Read Tempo Numbers
Tempo lifts are typically given in a four-numbered sequence. A movement is split into four parts and each number represents a specific phase of that movement. The number refers to the number of seconds you should take to complete that phase before moving onto the next.
We are going to be using the example sequence 2200 and the squat exercise to explain the different sections.
- ECCENTRIC PHASE (LOWERING)
The first number refers to the eccentric phase of the movement. It is also known as the ‘lowering’ phase.
- ISOMETRIC PHASE 1 (PAUSE AT THE ECCENTRIC PHASE)
The next number is the length of the pause at the eccentric phase, which is when you reach the bottom position. It tells you how many seconds you should hold this bottom stance.
- CONCENTRIC PHASE (LIFTING)
The lifting part is next and that is our concentric phase. This is the third number in your tempo sequence. Most common enough you will see either “0” or “X” for an explosive lift.
- ISOMETRIC PHASE 2 (PAUSE AT THE TOP OF THE LIFT)
The final number is the pause at the top of the lift. This is when you are back in your starting position and refers to how long you should wait until you begin your next rep.
Tempo @ 32X1
3 seconds down/descend
2 seconds on the bottom of the squat
X seconds explosive lift out of the bottom
1 second pause at the top/standing before next rep
How to Tempo Train for Your Goal
Not all tempo training is created equal. Depending on whether your goal is to lose fat or gain muscle or strength, how fast or slow your tempo exercises should vary accordingly.
- TEMPO TRAINING FOR FAT LOSS
Tempo training for fat loss means that your sets must last between the 45-75 second range.
For this goal, the key is to do plenty more reps than you would if your focus were Fat loss but spend less time under tension.
Let us just say, your tempo count for one squat rep could be 2021. This means that you are squatting for 2 seconds (no pause at the bottom) and coming up for 2 counts and pausing for another before starting your next rep.
This makes 1 squat rep 5 seconds. To make sure that your set lasts the 45-75 seconds you need for fat loss, you should do 9-15 reps for 1 set.
- TEMPO TRAINING FOR MUSCLE GAIN
Want to build your strength and be able to lift heavy? Then, you need to spend at least 30-40 seconds doing each set. However, unlike for fat loss where you are doing plenty of reps, for strength gains, you will lower the numbers of reps you have to do. This will mean that you are going to have to spend more time under tension to make sure your sets last as long as they should.
Let us use tempo squats as an example again. You can do the 4210 tempo, meaning you’ll lower yourself into the squat for 4 seconds, pause at the bottom for 2, explode up and then immediately begin your next rep. Altogether, each rep will take you 7 seconds. If you do 5 reps for a set, that’s 35 seconds spent doing tempo squats which falls in the strength gain range.
ALL IN ALL
Tempo training plays such an important role in your fitness progress to achieve your goals. It gives you many benefits such as addressing any weakness you must build an overall stronger lift. It will also teach you how to better understand and control your movements so that each and every lift is consistently good and well-executed. Whether you are looking to burn fat or to build muscle mass and strength, it has and should have a place in your workout.