Why Tempo Matters

A lot of our athletes are familiar with tempo (the 3010's etc you see in programs), but do you understand why we use them and why they change?

Tempo involves creating a time frame for each part of the lift, the eccentric (downward movement), the concentric (upward movement) and holds at the top and bottom. This in return varies the muscle's time under tension, the time under tension will facilitate different results and adaptations. To help you understand better, we made a list of why and how to interpret tempos--this way you can utilize them in your training.

Let's look at a tempo that appears like this....3-1-1-0

  1. The first 3 is the eccentric count, so a three second descend (lowering phase) in a back squat.
  2. The second 1 is the hold at the bottom of the eccentric phase, so this calls for a 1 second hold at the bottom position of the back squat.
  3. The third 1 is the concentric phase, the upward motion or contraction phase-in this example you would stand up at a rate of 1 second from the back squat.
  4. The fourth 0 is the top of the concentric phase (top of the movement), this calls for a 0 second stop between each rep at the top of the back squat, no break in-between reps.

Now that you have an understanding of how to read and interpret tempos, here's how changing them can be beneficial and why we do so.

  • Easy to track - using a set tempo ensures every rep is the same, you're not haphazardly moving weight at different speeds every lift (which would effect results/true progress).
  • Different muscle types stimulated - fast and slow twitch muscle fibers respond differently to different stimulus's, everyone has both types just in different amounts. Fast twitch respond better to heavier explosive movements, while slow twitch respond best to slower more prolonged movements.
    • A tempo that involves a lot of 1's and X's calls for more explosive phases stimulating fast twitch fibers, while numbers like 3-4+ and excessive holds will help recruit/build your slow twitch fibers (generally speaking).
  • Increased muscle growth - when you focus on time under tension you're providing a calculated stimulus to the muscle. This in return will create more protein synthesis (which we covered briefly here) which will result in increased muscle size/growth, moving weights at inconsistent tempos can slow this process.
  • Planned training phases - all workouts should have a common goal behind them, tempos allow support a more thought out plan to reach this goal. For explosive strength increases you'll usually see lower reps and faster tempos and for muscle size/strength you'll see higher reps and longer time under tension. Together time under tension and reps performed will dictate results, use the guide below as a reference.
    • Relative strength – reps 1-5, time under tension 1-20 seconds and 85% or greater of 1 RM
    • Functional hypertrophy - reps 6-8, time under tension 20-40 seconds and 79-84% of 1 RM
    • Hypertrophy - reps 9-12, time under tension 40-60 seconds and 70-78% of 1 RM
    • Strength endurance - reps 13+, time under tension 60+ seconds and 69% or less of 1 RM

Tempo is a great tool for increasing strength when used correctly. A well designed program has respect for these principles and utilizes the science behind them.