When I talk Tempo I am referring to the speed at which you complete each rep. This is written as four numbers alongside your reps and sets in your program.

Each number refers to a specific portion of the lift.

First Number: Eccentric

The eccentric phase is what first number and it is how long you should take to lower the weight.

Second Number: Stretch

This is how long you should pause in the stretched (Muscle lengthened) part of the movement.

Third Number: Concentric

The third number refers to how fast or low long you should take to lift the weight. An X here would indicate for you to lift explosively.

Forth Number: Hold / Squeeze

This refers to how long you should pause, hold or squeeze the exercise when the muscle is in the shortened position at the end on the concentric phase. Your training program and goal will determine whether you hold or squeeze here.

NOTE: It is important to mention, as it is a common mistake, that the first number is not necessarily always going to the first movement you do. It is with the bench press but with a lat pulldown it is actually the third. Make sure to pay attention to the lowering and lifting of the weight to get the numbers right.

So why is all of this important?

There are five reasons as to why Tempo is important to include in a program and adhere to.

  1. Training Response

How you set up your tempo can have a very different training response depending on how you manipulate each of these aspects of the lift.

Here are four different Tempos that will all give you a different result despite all taking around 6 sec to complete each rep.

1. 4020 – This is great for beginner and learning to both control and feel the movement. Also good for bodybuilding and keeping constant tension on the muscle.

2. 51X0 – Controlling and slowing down the eccentric will create more tension and then power as they lift explosively

3. 3030 – Controlled movements both eccentrically and concentrically help build tension in the muscle and are quiet brutal with you having to drop the weight to maintain a slow concentric movement.

4. 4011 – More of your standard lift with good control on the way down and a steadying of the movement at the top before you do the next rep. Good for both size and strength.

So, as you can see, very different responses depending on the speeds involved with each aspect of each rep.

Table 1.1

  1. Time Under Tension

Time Under Tension equates to your reps x your tempo and it is this equation that will determine the results you get.

You need to apply tension on a muscle for a desired length of time to achieve your desired result. See table 1.1

Therefore the old hypertrophy rep range of 8 to 12 only really applies if the tempo is also correct as you can see it should take 40 to 70 sec. 10 reps done fast (the usual 2010 tempo most people use when not paying attention) is complete in 30 seconds. This as you can see is not actually a long enough time to elicit a training response. 10 reps at a 4010 or a 4020 tempo will.

  1. Periodisation

I will often progress bigger lifts simply by manipulating the tempo. Be it a Squat, Deadlift or a Snatch Grip Deadlift. I learned the benefits and brutality of using super slow tempo when training with Dimetry Klokov and Shredded in Floreat.

Doing a Snatch Grip Deadlift is challenging on it’s own but when then tempo is 8080 it is crazy hard. As Klokov explained though, training at this tempo gets you strong throughout the entire movement and essentially bullet-proofs your body.

Next phase of training you can change up the tempo and it will feel completely different and so on.

Recently I had these in a BJJ athlete for 3 phases.

Phase 1 – 3 Reps with a 8080 Tempo

Phase 2 – 4 Reps with a 6111 Tempo (included a 3 sec Iso Hold above knee on eccentric)

Phase 3 – 4 Reps with a 41X1 Tempo

As a result of these progressions my client was able to increase his previous PB by over 30 percent 

  1. Learning

When people first start to lift it is important the learn how to control the weight, groove the movement to ensure correct technique with every rep and contract the right muscles. By slowing the tempo down and explaining why you will help them become much better at lifting that just aimlessly going through a set amount of reps.

  1. Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is often considered one of the key principles of weight training. There is a science to this where you need to keep all your variables constant and improve on either the reps or the weight to be able to say there was in fact a progression. 

If you put your weight up but also increase the speed of the movement (Tempo) and therefore decrease the TUT (Time under tension) can you really compare one training session to the previous? No.

You need to be able to keep your variables (tempo, weight, rest periods, reps etc) constant apart from one that you wish you progress. This does not always have to be weight or reps for it to be considered a progression. (Although strict progressive overload is often considered to just relate to resp and weight) You can decrease the rest periods, increase the reps or sets or extend the tempo. All of which will make you session harder and if you can manage to do it, show you have progressed.

So next time you are either writing or doing a program realise that those 4 numbers that make up the Tempo have a big impact on your entire training.



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