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Tempo - the most important aspect of training

26 January, 2018 Training

Tempo refers to the speed in which each rep is performed. For example, if it takes three seconds to go into a lunge and one second to come out of the lunge, then the tempo is three seconds eccentrically (lowering the weight) and one second concentrically (lifting the weight).

So tempo refers to the speed of your movement, hence the reason why it is spoken hand in hand with time under tension which is the total time a muscle resists weight during each set.

Typically, in a training program, the tempo will be displayed as four numbers, so it may look something like 3-0-1-0. Which means:

  • The first number (3) is the eccentric, or lowering component of the lift.
  • The second number (0) indicates any pause at the midpoint.
  • The third number (1) is the concentric, or lifting component.
  • Finally, the fourth number (0) indicates any pause at the top.

If you just want to get the gist about what tempo is, you can stop reading now. For those who want to know how to apply it to their training, continue reading.

From the definition I’m sure you can immediately see the reasons why tempo is arguably the most important component of your training. For one, performing a lunge which takes you four seconds to complete versus a lunge which takes you two seconds to complete, which one do you think is harder to do? If you’re struggling with the answer, why don’t you stand up and try it.

Now do a bodyweight lunge with a tempo of one second to lower yourself (eccentric phase) into the lunge (one one thousand) and one second to lift yourself up (concentric phase) from the lunge (one one thousand). Do this for 5 reps. With your other leg, lunge slower where it takes you three seconds to get down into the lunge (one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand) and one second to get up. Do this for 5 reps as well. Tell me, which one was harder? If you said the lunge which had a total four seconds of time under tension, you would be correct.

A slower, more controlled movement is harder to do than a faster one because your making your muscles work longer under tension and more muscles are recruited for you to control the movement, therefore you have to work harder. Simple as that!

And doing this creates more muscle trauma, leading to greater muscle growth in response. It also poses a challenge to your stability and core strength, as you’re being forced to remain upright with a rigid torso under load. Of course, longer, more tiring sets mean improved conditioning and greater caloric expenditure as well.

Other reasons why tempo is king:

  • Improved body awareness
  • Improved control of lifts
  • Development of connective tissue strength
  • Focus on muscular elements versus tendinous elements. Which means, a slow controlled motion is going to place more stress on the muscles, whereas a bouncy or ballistic motion will place more stress on the tendons etc. (source: T-Nation)

Would I benefit from adding tempo to my workouts, you ask. A loud, resounding yes! Everyone would benefit, yet most online programs out there don’t talk about tempo. And it's one of the components of our DIYPT programs that get results.

Bear in mind the tempo will be different depending on the type of training you are doing. Below has been adapted from the work of A.S. Prilepin, a Soviet sports scientist. I’d like you to base your workouts on the following depending on your training.

 

Type of training

Stability

Endurance

Hypertrophy (muscle building)

Strength

Power

Tempo (typically)

3131

2010

3010

2010

1010

Time under tension for each rep

8 sec

3 sec

4 sec

3 sec

2 sec

Total Time under tension

120 – 180 sec

60 – 90 sec

40 – 70 sec

< 20 sec

< 20 sec