Updated: Jun 12, 2021
We dive into how what tempo is, how to interpret it, and how it's beneficial in the gym.
A tempo is a set rhythm or count that is added to a training movement. This is going to slow down the movement tremendously. By slowing down the movement we are also increasing time under tension (TUT). During exercise, we are constantly placing stress ( aka mechanical tension) on the muscles. This mechanical tension is what causes micro damage via small tears in the muscle. Flash forward to protein synthesis and recovery ---> hello strength gains! The point I am getting at here is that time under tension is how we maximize strength gains. Tempo training is our gateway to increasing time under tension and optimizing strength.
Tempo is professionally written as a series of four digits. For example, 3:0:3:0. We are going to use the deadlift as our exercise example. The first number is the eccentric phase of the exercise. This means the muscle is being lengthened during this time. The eccentric phase is normally the descent portion of the movement. The eccentric phase is the descent of the deadlift. The second number is if there is a pause at the end range position (bottom of the deadlift.) The third number is the concentric phase of the movement. This is the phase when the muscle shortens and contracts (the ascent a deadlift). The final number is if there is a pause at the end of the movement. So, 3:0:3:0 is read as, 3 seconds down, no pause, 3 seconds up, no pause. Tempo is commonly written from 2-5 seconds and may or may not have pauses at end range and starting range. The eccentric and concentric phase may also be different. For example, there may be a 5 seconds eccentric phase and a 1 second concentric phase. This would be written as 5:0:1:0.
BENEFITS OF TEMPO
1. INCREASE MOTOR CONTROL AND SKILL
By adding a tempo we are forced to slow down and practice control. This is going to allow you to gain more awareness throughout the movement and feel each position of the exercise. This is going to increase the efficiency of neuromuscular pathways aka that mind-muscle connection. By adding a tempo we are forcing you to slow down and get stronger even in the portion of the movement where you may be the weakest. For example, if your knees tend to cave in during squats, we are able to slow it down and really focus on driving your knees out. This is going to make you better at the movement and improve your skill. We perfect movements when we are able to be consistent and control the entire range of motion, not just partial range of motion.
2. INCREASE WORK CAPACITY
Tempo work is another method of building your work capacity. This is the amount of force your body is capable of handling. You don't HAVE to keep adding weight to the barbell to get stronger. You can slow down your lift to increase time under tension by adding a tempo. This is another means for progressing in difficulty.
3. HIGH REWARD AND LOW RISK
Some movements pose a higher risk of injury than others in the gym. For example, you are way more likely to injure yourself by sprinting or box jumping vs. doing tempo front squats. Tempo work is something anyone can do safely.
Tempo work gives you more variety to your workouts. It changes up the game by a long shot. Tempo exercises VS. non tempo exercises are two totally different ball games. This is especially true to those who are limited on equipment.
5. JOINT AND TENDON HEALTH
Well, we all know that running and repetitive jumping is not the best for our joints and tendons. Movements as such breakdown our tissues and can cause "wear and tear." We can counter that by adding tempo work to our training. Tempo work is great for improving tendon strength and durability.
Ho often should you tempo train? 2-3 times per week is a great rule of thumb. I shoot to add a tempo to each of the major movement patterns once per week (hinge, squat, press, pull).
Do your tempo work friends. Talk soon,