Adding variety and progression to your training is not only essential to motivation but also to your results. As a beginner it is quite easy to overload and keep finding ways to vary your workouts. As you get a little more advanced this becomes a bit tougher and you may need to look for other ways to intensify your workouts than simply adding heavier weights.
That being said, the principle of tempo training is not just for the advanced. Applying tempo to any exercise, beginner, intermediate or advanced will aid results.
SO WHAT IS TEMPO TRAINING?
Simply put, tempo is rate or pace the activity is performed. Or otherwise, how quickly you lift a weight (the concentric part of the rep, also known as the “positive”), and how quickly you lower the weight (the eccentric part of the rep, also known as the “negative”). The faster an exercise is performed the less amount of time the working muscles are put under tension, the slower and more controlled the exercise is completed, muscle tension is increased.
The longer a muscle is put under tension, the more the muscles will grow. So depending on your personal goals – Faster reps allow you to use heavier weights, but reduce tension, so you trade size for power and speed.
You may have seen numbers being flown around when talking tempo. Each phase of an exercise is typically represented by a number and that number dictates the length of time (amount of tension) So how do we understand them?
THE FIRST NUMBER – The eccentric/negative phase
The first number is reflective of the time you take when you are lowering the weight or when you are moving in a direction opposite to the muscle contraction known as the eccentric phase. In a squat for example, this would mean lowering the weight. So if the first number is 4 – The lowering into the squat should take you 4 seconds to complete
THE SECOND NUMBER
The second number is the pause after the first phase is complete – So in a squat, the second number will reflect the time you hold the squat position.
THE THIRD NUMBER – The concentric/Positive phase
The third number refers to the concentric phase of the exercise – ie the contraction. For a squat this would be the time it takes to drive up back to the starting position.
THE FOURTH NUMBER
The fourth number isn’t often used, but if present, it refers to the pause at the top of the movement before you complete the next rep of the exercise.
So a Squat at a tempo of 3,1,1, 2 = 3 seconds down, 1 second pause at the bottom, 1 second to drive up, and then pause for 2 seconds at the top before your next rep
WHAT TEMPO SHOULD I BE USING?
Tempo will vary depending on goals, fitness levels and exercises performed. Some trainers even split the set into differing tempos for maximum results (little more advanced than today’s reading). Below are some examples of what the tempo of a movement may look like for a specific training effect.
Tempo For Power
When squatting for power the Tempo could be 2, 0, 0, 2. So this would be 2 seconds on the way down, no pause at the bottom, and drive back to standing as quickly as possible. 2 seconds reset at the top and then repeat the exercise.
Tempo For Strength
When training for strength the tempo could be 2,1,2, 2.
Squat: 2 seconds on the way down, 1 second pause at the bottom, two seconds to return to the original starting position, then two seconds to rest and go again
Tempo for Hypertrophy
When training for hypertrophy the tempo could be 4,1,3,1. Squat: 4 seconds on the way down, 1 second pause at the bottom, two seconds to drive from the bottom, and two seconds to reset.
Not only will applying tempo to your training intensify your workouts and ensure results it is used to improve stability develop muscle fibers and work capacity.
We know that the body will adapt to any training programme if repeated, so including tempo training should be varied just like any other training variable. Regardless, planning your workouts before hand and understanding the differences in tempo will allow you to start to chose the most effective for you to maximize your results.
Remember = tension = gains 😉