Everyone should include tempo training in their workout routine at some point in their fitness journey. Even for movements like the squat or deadlift that require explosiveness and power, slowing down exercises with tempo can really promote a better, more seamless lift in the long run.
So what is the benefit of tempo training? By including tempo movements in your exercise routine, you’ll be able to fix your positional and technique weaknesses for more consistent and well-executed lifts, while simultaneously encouraging better hypertrophy and strength gains.
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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.
1. ECCENTRIC PHASE (LOWERING)
The first number, in this case, it’s the number 2, refers to the eccentric phase of the movement. It’s also known as the ‘lowering’ phase. So for our squat, this is the part where you squat down. Referring to our tempo sequence, it should take 2 counts to reach the bottom position.
2. 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. In our example, we should hold it for another 2 counts.
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3. CONCENTRIC PHASE (LIFTING)
The lifting part is next and that is our concentric phase. This is the third number in our tempo sequence. You’ll need to take as many counts as stipulated to move from the pause at the bottom position back up to the standing position in the squat. The third number is our sequence is 0 which means that you should make this phase as explosive and fast as possible.
4. 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. The final number for our tempo squat is another 0. This means that once you reach the top and you take another breath, head down into your next rep straight away.
We used the squat as an example but it can refer to any other movement as well such as the push-up. In this case, once you’re in your starting push up position, you’ll lower yourself for a count of 2, pause for another 2, then push yourself back up and immediately start your second rep once you’ve reached the top.
The Order Of Tempo Lifts
Also, bear in mind that the tempo is always written in this order: eccentric, pause, concentric, pause.
However, not all lifts are completed in that way. For example, deadlifts and pullups. Deadlifts begin on the floor and you lift the weight first as opposed to lowering it like in the squat so it starts concentrically as opposed to eccentrically.
With pullups, you pull yourself up before lowering back down again. So make sure you’re aware of how the movement works and how it starts so that you can correctly read the tempo. In these cases, you’ll begin by reading the third number first, the concentric phase.
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7 Benefits Of Tempo Training
So now you know how to read the tempo, you need to know why you should even bother in the first place. There are so many great benefits to tempo training that you can achieve if you add it to your workout routine. Here, we go through a few reasons why you should definitely do so.
1. TEACHES CONTROL
Tempo training essentially teaches you to slow down the movement and maintain control throughout the entire time.
It means that you can’t 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.
For example, in the bench press, it’s common to see people bouncing the barbell off their chest, using it to drive the bar up. In the bicep curl, people can swing their weights to get them up, overarching their back and using their legs and hips to help drive it.
This means that they’re not using the muscles needed to properly execute the curl or the press. Tempo training really breaks down the mechanics of the movement and makes sure that you can lift the weight you’re lifting with complete control and correct form.
By slowing down the bicep curl, for example, you won’t be able to swing your weights; you’ll have to use your bicep muscle to curl the weight, meaning that you’ll actually be doing the exercise correctly. The control you gain from tempo training can really help you maintain consistently good technique with your lifts.
Don’t worry as well, if you find that tempo training means that you have to lower the weight that you normally use. By executing the movement with correct technique, you’ll actually be making better progress than you would if you were performing it with a higher weight but with incorrect form.
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2. 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.
With tempo squats, when you pause at the bottom position, it forces you to be aware of where everything is in your entire body. Are your knees buckling in and collapsing inward? Are you committing the ‘butt wink’?
By slowing it down, you can really be aware of your positioning throughout the whole move which is easy to miss when you’re focusing on speed or just completing your rep. Tempo training really is a great form of motor learning. With this greater kinesthetic awareness, you’ll be able to perform all your lifts consistently well, making your very last rep looking like your first.
3. 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.
And if you’re not sure what your positional issues are, then try doing some tempo training anyway. By slowing it down, you’ll have a clearer window to identify what your weaknesses are.
4. INCREASES TIME UNDER TENSION
The faster you complete a rep of whatever exercise you’re focusing on, the less time you’ll 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. You’ll be doing more than if you were just doing straight squats or deadlifts because the longer time under tension will mean that your body has to recruit more muscle fibers.
5. DEVELOPS WORK CAPACITY
When you’re slowing your movements down, you’ll be forced to lower the weight that you’d typically lift without the tempo counts.
As tempo lifts are completed at a much lower percentage of your 1RM (one rep max), you’ll 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.
6. ADD VARIETY
o training is a great way to mix up your training and add variety.
While it’s important to focus on the lifts that you want to work on, such as the squat or bench, by consistently working on them, including tempo training to your workout regime can give you a breath of fresh air while still focusing on improving the main lifts that you love to do, so it’s a win-win situation. It can really make a difference in how much you enjoy your training as well as improvements in your strength and form because it’s something new that your body will have to adapt to.
7. REDUCES RISK OF INJURY
As you improve your quality of movement with tempo training, your risk of injury will reduce.
You’ll 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’ll be lifting safely while still making great progress.
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 be will vary accordingly.
1. TEMPO TRAINING FOR FAT LOSS
Tempo training for fat loss means that your sets have to last between the 45-75 second range.
For this goal, the key is to do plenty more reps than you would if your focus was strength gain, but spend less time under tension.
Let’s just say, your tempo count for one squat rep could be 2021. This means that you’re 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.
2. 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’re doing plenty of reps, for strength gains, you’ll lower the numbers of reps you have to do. This will mean that you’re going to have to spend more time under tension to make sure your sets last as long as they should.
Let’s use tempo squats as an example again. You can do the 4220 tempo, meaning you’ll lower yourself into the squat for 4 seconds, pause at the bottom for 2, explode up for 2 seconds and then immediately begin your next rep. Altogether, each rep will take you 8 seconds. If you do 5 reps for a set, that’s 40 seconds spent doing tempo squats which falls in the strength gain range.
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 have to 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’re looking to burn fat or to build muscle mass and strength, it definitely has its place in your workout.
About The Author
As a health and fitness writer, Emily combines her two passions—powerlifting and writing. With a creative writing degree under her belt, she spends her mornings lifting weights, her nights putting pen to paper, and eating too many snacks in between.