When training, especially during the process of putting your workout/program together, weight/load, sets, reps, and exercise selection are usually the main go-to considerations, especially when aiming for progressive overload.
However one significantly under-rated (and often overlooked) aspect of your training session is TEMPO.
So, what is Tempo?
Tempo refers to the numeric scheme to describe the different phases of an exercise, broken down into four parts:
1- Eccentric/Lowering Phase - How many seconds it takes to lower the weight, opposite to the direction of the muscle contraction/stretching the muscle.
2 – Bottom Pause Phase – How many seconds paused at the bottom of the movement, between the eccentric (lowering) and concentric (lifting) phase.
3 – Concentric/Lifting Phase – How many seconds it takes to lift the weight back to the starting position or reach the shortened position of the muscle – sometimes this is also reflected as an “X” to signify a fast, explosive movement.
4 – Top Pause Phase – How many seconds paused at the top of the movement.
Tempo would normally be reflected as four consecutive numbers, so for example, a bicep curl with the tempo of 3010 would indicate 3 seconds to lower the weight, 0 seconds pause at the bottom, 1 second to lift the weight back to starting position, and 0 seconds pause at the top, before the next rep.
Tempo numbers are always written in the same order (Eccentric, bottom pause, concentric, top pause) however not every exercise STARTS with an eccentric movement, so it’s important to understand how to read the tempo even when the lift is performed in a slightly different order. For example, a deadlift will start from the bottom, with the first action being a concentric movement, so a 3010 tempo for a deadlift would look like 1 second to lift the weight (concentric), 0 second pause at the top, 3 seconds to lower the weight (eccentric), 0 seconds pause at the bottom.
3010 or 2010 would be common tempos used for standard training, however you can definitely manipulate your tempo to really take your training to the next level, increasing difficulty and time under tension per rep.
To get more out of your training, try:
Increasing the length of time spent in the eccentric phase – so lowering the weight slowly, with control – for example a 5010 or 6010 tempo – Completing a Romanian deadlift by lowering the bar down slowly for 5 or 6 seconds, 0 pause at the bottom, lifting the weight upwards for 1 second, then 0 pause heading straight into your next rep.
You could also incorporate a pause, usually in the bottom/most stretched position, as an isometric hold – for example a 4410 tempo – Squatting down for 4 seconds, holding at the bottom for 4 seconds, lifting the weight back upwards for 1 second, then 0 pause heading straight into your next rep.
Increasing speed in the concentric phase, using explosive movements, can increase power and teach your body to apply more force – for example a 20X0 tempo – Completing a Barbell Push-Press (starting with the concentric) exploding the bar upwards as fast as possible, 0 pause, 2 seconds down for the eccentric movement with control, then 0 seconds pause heading straight into the next rep.
Lastly, if you’re struggling with form, or feel like you’re constantly rushing through your reps with too much momentum, incorporating a pause after each rep to re-set can help improve your technique and maintain form while lifting heavier over time – for example a 3111 tempo – Completing a Bench Press lowering the bar with control for 3 seconds, pausing for 1 second at the bottom, pushing the bar back upwards for 1 second, then pausing for one second at the top to brace yourself and re-set for the next rep with optimal form and positioning.
A few more benefits of manipulating tempo during your resistance training:
- Increases difficulty level by extending time under tension – a lighter weight can feel much more challenging when slowed down, so a great one to incorporate if training from home with minimal load
- Can prevent you from rushing through the exercise and relying on momentum
- Extends time under tension to challenge your mucle fibres
- Can improve form/technique by being more controlled
- Helps to increase mind-muscle connection and purposeful intent
- Can help improve stability and core strength
- Helps mentally focus throughout each rep instead of just “going through the motions”
There are so many ways to play around with tempo to make the one exercise more difficult in different ways, so it’s a great variable to consider in your training regime not just to add difficulty, but also to add new life to a stale workout/exercise to keep you engaged and excited to train!
Written By Sami Rose
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Sami is an Australian EHPLabs Athlete, qualified in fitness and personal training who runs a successful online coaching business. She is passionate about health, fitness, and sustainable transformations, whilst maintaining a balanced and healthy mindset. @samirosefitness