What Is Tempo And How Do You Use It?

Using tempo we can target specific results in a program and use it to work a person’s position, mechanics, movement progression, metabolism, control and absolute strength.

Essentially, tempo and the way it is prescribed represents how long the muscle or group of muscles is under load or tension. Manipulating tempo can change the complete intent of the training program.

Firstly I will explain the different types of muscle contractions so you can understand where and why we would use tempo during certain contractions.

Isometric
Is an application of force to a muscle in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction. EXAMPLE: The Bottom and Top of a Squat, as well as a Plank.

Eccentric
A contraction where the muscle elongates while under tension due to opposing force being greater than the force generated by the muscle. EXAMPLE: The lowering portion of the squat.

Concentric
A type of muscle contraction in which the muscle shortens while generating force greater than the external load. EXAMPLE: The standing portion of the squat.

Now that we understand the definitions of the various contractions let’s take a look at the how to write a “tempo”. Tempo should always be written as a 4 digit prescription like the example below.

Back Squat @ 40X1

You may be scratching your head at what exactly that means.

But let’s break it down.
The First number (as in 40X1) is the amount of time you should take to perform the Eccentric portion, or, the lowering of the weight or exercise. In this example, 4 which is :04 on the way down.
The Second number (as in 40X1) is the amount of time to hold the weight/pause at the bottom of the exercise. In this example, 0 which is no pause.
The Third number (as in 40X1) is the amount of time you should take to perform the Concentric portion or the raising of the exercise or weight. In this example, X. An X anywhere indicates as fast as possible, i.e. explosive (but still maintaining good form).
The Fourth number (as in 40X1) is the amount of time to hold the weight/pause at the top of the exercise. In this example, 1 which is a :01 pause at the top.

The way in which and the amount of time the tempo prescription is written changes the intent of the piece.

There are four main categories of intent that change depending on the tempo.

1. Position/Mechanics – By slowing down the movement, you are forcing the person to develop an awareness of what the body is doing and should be doing in each muscle contraction or even one specific muscle contraction within the piece.

2. Metabolic – If you increase the total amount of time under tension, you increase the amount of work required, which in turn increases the metabolic demand of the actual contraction. An Example? 52X1. That’s a significant amount of time under tension as compared to 21X2.

3. Progression – You can keep the tempo the same for the movement and gradually decrease the amount of time under tension in the sets to force weight progression and advancement. An example of this would be 4010 to 3010 to 2010.

4. Control – Tempo requires the athlete to utilise every muscle in order to meet the demands of the Tempo.

Now that you hopefully understand tempo you know why we use it in training.

Jesse Humphrys