What Is Tempo Training, and How Can It Improve Your Strength & Muscle Gains?

Tempo training is the perfect addition to anyone’s workout program. Anyone, beginner or expert can benefit from greater control in tempo training and a higher degree of stress on the muscle to stimulate strength and muscle growth.

Personally, strength training is what gets me up in the morning.

When you talk to people who lift, the guys and girls who really put the work in day in and day out you will find that many of them have a very similar idea about the human body and its applications in strength and hypertrophy.

You see, the elite lifters, the ones who wake up to lift don’t concern themselves with the sheer amount of weight they can lift. It’s not just about “how much can you bench, bro” – it’s about how functional you are in every setting in fitness.

For many though, increasing the size of muscles to lift heavier while in control is the most important and integral component of bodybuilding.

That last concept is perhaps the most important – lifting in control.

When you get to the point where you are ready to squat over 350, bench over 300 and deadlift over 400 you’ve brought your body to a point where there are virtually two options – either you control the weight or it controls you.

This is why tempo training becomes one of the most important aspects of any well-rounded fitness program. Not only is it one of the most important aspects of a workout program when it comes to stimulating hypertrophy, but it also teaches your muscles to control the weight.

What is Tempo Training?

Ever wondered why the guy beside you doing bench is lowering the weight so slowly, or why they guy doing squats is pausing at the bottom of his range of motion?

All of these methods are used in order to correctly utilize tempo variance. Tempo is, in its most basic form the amount of time you place the muscle under tension for one repetition – measured in four different numbers (all in seconds).

In essence, the tempo is repetition speed and control. A faster tempo elicits a greater strength response, whereas a slower tempo can be used to stimulate more muscle tissue and greater hypertrophy.

Both should be used in a complete training program.

Let’s break down how tempo training works.

Tempo training works in four phases of movement. These are the eccentric contraction (muscle lengthening), pause (end ROM), concentric contraction (muscle shortening) and pause (top ROM).

Looking at a tempo program you will notice these four phases of movement are broken down into four numbers – 2010, 3010 etc. Each number corresponds to the four phases of movements – four numbers, four phases.

Example 1: Biceps Curl @1010

1 second eccentric, 0 second pause, 1 second concentric, 0 second pause.

Weight Lifting Exercise Tempo Example One

Example 2: Overhead Press @21X0

2 second eccentric, 1 second pause, (x) explosive concentric, 0 second pause.

Exercise Tempos Example Two

It is important to note that rep tempo is always completed with the eccentric portion of the movement first (unless specified). For example on the biceps curl above you would start with the 1-second lengthening of the biceps (moving from flexed to extended first).

NOTE: When you see an “X” in your tempo program that means you are being explosive, pushing the weight as quickly as possible. You will generally only see this on a concentric phase of movement.

Starting Eccentrically is Best For Two Reasons

#1 Your body can handle more weight eccentrically

Your muscles can hold 130% more weight eccentrically compared to concentrically. This is why most people will have no issue lowering the weight on a heavy bench, but struggle to press it up.

#2You elicit a stretch reflex

Starting with an eccentric contraction, lengthening the muscle will allow your body to handle an actual stretch reflex. This stretch reflex will allow your muscles to work similar to an elastic band, handling more weight and training the muscle to be more elastic and explosive.

Alright, so now you have a basis of what tempo training is, but how can you implement it into your current workout program?

In order to maximize your strength, your tempo should always be recorded – just as you record your weight, sets and reps. You can use tempo training to assess strength progressions and make on-the-fly changes to your workout in order to make it easier or more difficult.

Here’s how you can implement tempo training into each discipline of fitness training.

Tempo in Various Forms of Training

From pure strength training to callisthenics, tempo training and tempo variance have a massive effect on overall strength and performance.

Callisthenics

Perhaps the most underrated and under-utilised component of a callisthenics program is tempo variance. On a very fundamental level if you are not increasing the amount of resistance on the muscle with more weight then you are not stimulating hypertrophy for growth.

Callisthenics program tempo variance

Here are two ways you can incorporate tempo into callisthenics:

#1 Higher tempo

Integrating higher tempo or slower movements speeds are a great way to place more tension on the muscle without increasing the weight.

#2 Pause reps

Using the pause components of tempo can help you to increase the strength in specific ranges of motion. You must not forget in callisthenics you are essentially repeating many movements throughout the week – incorporating pause reps is one of the best ways for creating more stress on the muscle without entering into an injury spectrum.

Strength Training

Tempo training is the foundation of strength. If you’re a powerlifter, strength athlete, strongman etc and you are not incorporating tempo training – you will plateau.

On the most basic level, you must understand that all movements should be completed specific to the rep speed needed to lift as much weight as possible.

This is why the likes of Dmitry Klokov and Charles Poliquin always recommend rep tempo and rep speed when training for strength. Not only is it specific to your actual competition lifts, but it can also be a very useful tool when you are on deloading weeks.

Rep tempo and tempo variance can be a very effective tool for strength training and other forms of fitness, yet it is not a complete form of training. In order to maximize our growth, we must pair it with various forms of already known methods for strength.

Here’s how you can use tempo training to improve your overall strength and performance.

Incorporating Tempo Into Your Existing Training

High Weight

Perhaps your program is quite basic and follows traditional strength principles of overload and deload. This is a good start, but incorporating tempo training into your program will help you to find more strength in less time, with less occurrence of injury.

When training at the high weight you must consider that the tempo speed is very important in your overall growth and ability to track progress.

For example: let’s say you can bench 225 @1010 (a pretty easy rep speed). In order to grow stronger, you can either increase the weight to 235 @1010 or you can leave the weight and increase the tempo. In this case, your sets would look like this 225 @3110.

In this second example, you are lowing the bar for 3 seconds, pausing for 1 second, contracting for 1 second and not pausing at the top. This is your bread and butter bench tempo and it will help you to skyrocket your pushing movements.

Increasing Repetitions

Many people follow this method when they are not into pure strength training. To a certain extent, if you started off benching 150 for 5 reps and can now do 150 for 8 reps, that’s a pretty clear increase in strength.

Incorporating rep tempo into the mix can help you to track further the point at which you become weak and train that weakness out of your program. Tempo training with higher reps can also be a good way to implement stress onto the muscle in hopes of stimulating hypertrophy.

If you’re program mostly consists of increased reps to create greater strength then you should look to tempo training as a way to induce greater stress without entering injury. For example, if you currently complete 20 pushups @1010 you can maintain a high rep count, increase the tempo to @2121 and grow much stronger through the same number of repetitions.

You should now have a pretty good grasp on the benefits of tempo training as it relates to your personal strength.

With that in mind there are still many downsides to tempo training – here are some of the most applicable do’s and don’ts of strength training.

Do’s and Don’ts of Tempo Training

When it comes to tempo training there are a few pretty basic rules that you should do your best to abide.

Do’s

  • Use tempo training to deload the muscle with less weight and higher tempo
  • Use tempo training to overload the muscle with greater resistance in isolated movements
  • Progressively increase your resistance and tempo using longer tempo times
  • Record your tempo variance at all times

Don’ts

  • Drastically increase your tempo just to overload the muscle
  • Start an exercise with a concentric tempo scheme
  • Use pause reps on every workout
  • Use tempo in HIIT training

To a certain extent, your training needs to be fun and inclusive of all workout schemes. With that said the main purpose of incorporating tempo into your workout program is to create more structure and more ability to adapt and progress.

NOTE: This is why we do not recommend using rep tempo in HIIT programs – there just isn’t enough structure to fully accommodate tempo variance.

Tempo training should not be utilized unless you are recording your lifts and your tempo and using these as a basis for strength and overall advances in performance.

Tempo Training Yields Strength Progressions

Tempo training is the perfect addition to anyone’s workout program. Anyone, beginner or expert can benefit from greater control in tempo training and a higher degree of stress on the muscle to stimulate growth.

Experts can utilize advanced tempo schemes in order to further progress in big, heavy lifts, while beginners can use tempo training to easily progress in weight and total reps while avoiding injury.

If you haven’t implemented tempo training into your workout program it’s high time you spend some time assessing your regime.

Tempo training will not only help you to grow stronger, but it will help you to assess how quickly and how effective your strength program actually is.

Below you will find a sample workout program that can easily be adapted to a beginner or advanced lifter depending on how difficult you make the tempo.

Upper Body Power
Exercises REPS SETS Tempo
Bent Over Row 8 3 2010
Flat Bench Press 6 4 3110
Overhead Press 6 4 21X0
Cambered Bar Curls 12 3 3111
Skull Crusher 8 3 21X0

What next? Practice makes perfect! Check out this 4 day split PHUL workout to build size and strength. The program includes weight lifting tempo.

What Is Tempo Training, and How Can It Improve Your Strength & Muscle Gains? was last modified: May 8th, 2018 by Gabriello Ianniruberto

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