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Tempo Training; What, When, and How

posted on August 19, 2021

In my most recent blog, I discussed the importance of performing paused reps and how to incorporate them into your training. Today, I’m going to go one step further and discuss tempo reps, and how you can use them within your training arsenal in order to continue progressing and knocking out your goals. The purpose of incorporating tempo work into your training is to emphasize your time in a particular portion of each lift in order to become more comfortable being in that portion, and therefore becoming stronger and more efficient within that given lift. First, let’s dive into the meaning of tempo in relation to the repetition.


In regards to performing a particular exercise, the tempo is the rate or pace that the exercise is being performed. Therefore, rep tempo is the rate at which you perform reps within a given set.


When written on paper, tempo is typically shown as a 3 digit code that looks something like this: (4-1-3). Each number portrays the amount of time in seconds to perform that specific portion of the exercise. The first digit (4) is always the eccentric (‘lowering’ or ‘negative’) portion of the lift. During a squat, that would consist of the descent into the bottom for a count of 4 seconds. The second digit (1) represents the mid-point of the lift. In the squat, this would be the bottom portion where you would typically transition from the descent to the ascent, except now you would hold for 1 second before ascending, just as we discussed in the last blog on paused reps. The third digit (3) would then be the concentric (‘lifting’ or ‘positive’) portion of the lift. This would be standing up with the bar for a count of 3 seconds.


Keep in mind, you can make the tempo whatever you want depending on where you think each lift needs the most emphasis. Let’s continue to use the squat as an example. If you have a problem with staying under control and in a good stable position on the descent of the squat, then you would want the greatest tempo to be applied to that part of the lift, with 4-5 seconds usually being the sweet spot. If you lose tension in the bottom of the squat, then you would want to add a pause around 1-3 seconds. If you are typically stable on the descent and in the bottom, but lose positioning on the way up, then, you guessed it, would want to add a tempo to the ascent. For this, 3-4 seconds is ideal.


When adding them into your training program, start with around 60% of your one rep max for anywhere from 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps. As you become more familiar, you can slowly increase the weight by 2.5-5% of your one rep max. This can be done weekly, but it doesn’t have to be. If you aren’t feeling ready to progress in weight, then stay at the same as the previous week with the goal of performing each rep more efficiently. Try this for 4-6 weeks and then go back to performing standard tempo repetitions and see the difference.


We are programmed to think that every lift should be performed as fast as possible in order to develop the most amount of force, recruit the most fast twitch muscle fibers, etc. The reality is, if we cannot move efficiently within each lift, then speed becomes irrelevant. So if you find yourself struggling to keep good form and tension within a given lift, or just want to change up your training program with a new challenge, try incorporating tempos and see the benefits for yourself.


– Curtis Miller


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