December 16, 2020

Tempo is a powerful training tool used that can help develop good technique, body control, put the athlete under tension at specific joint angles that will help them overcome weak spots in movement, and change the overall time under tension of the exercise leading to an improved response from the exercise. It can help you learn and master a movement safely while still giving you enough stress to cause your body to adapt.

Reading the tempo on your program can be challenging at first, but after a couple sessions it becomes a lot easier to understand. You might see something like this:

That looks like a lot of numbers but the breakdown is pretty simple. B1 is the order and this exercise is done after completing the A group. If there is a B2, it just means it is paired in a superset fashion with it. DB RDL is the exercise. This workout calls for 3 sets of 14-16 reps in each set. The weight will be chosen based on what the athlete can complete in that rep range while maintaining the tempo. The tempo is “3211.” The breakdown of these numbers means 3 seconds on the eccentric or lowering portion of the movement, 2 seconds isometric hold at the bottom of the movement, 1 second on the way up or concentric portion of the movement, and 1 second isometric hold back at the beginning of the movement.

Each movement involves three types of muscle actions. The top starting position is an isometric contraction where the joint angle is neither opening or closing. The eccentric action is when the muscle lengthens. This is followed by another isometric contraction where the body and weight come to stop and the joint angle isn’t changing. Finally, the concentric action where the muscle length is shortening.

Tempo training can also be a form of progression in your training program. For example, if in week 1 of your program you did 3 sets of 5 reps of Front Squats at a tempo of 3111 with a 90 second rest between sets, you could increase the challenge of the front squats the next week by doing 3 sets of 5 reps of Front Squats at a tempo of 4111 with a 90 second rest. Adding 1 extra second to each rep could change the total time under tension of each set by 5 seconds causing greater metabolic demand and forcing the athlete to show more control of the movement. Tempo training is a powerful tool used to master form, increase challenge both mechanically and metabolically, and overcome weak spots in your movements.

Training using tempos can help your rate of force development from overcoming a longer isometric hold by taking away the stretch reflex. By slowing down and developing great motor control of the movement you can also give your connective tissue a break from higher impact movements. It also gives you a measurable control on monitoring your progress. An example of this would be testing your 5 rep max back squat. If your program only called for this, you could perform each rep as fast as possible and the 5 reps could put you under tension for 20 seconds. But if the design called for Back Squat 5RM @ 3111, we now know each rep should take 6 seconds or a total time under tension of 30 seconds for the whole set. Controlling this allows us to see true progress of the set.

Make sure your program is using tempos to help you master movements, stay as healthy as possible, and overcome weak points.