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Understanding Tempos

Tempos are frequently used in training, let's look at how to understand them and how to use them.



What do we mean by tempos?


When we are training in the gym and performing our exercises we can use tempos to decide how long each repetition of each exercise is going to last. Working with planned tempos during your workouts will help you to factor your training to your specific needs. I like to make sure that when I'm programming I include tempos so that myself and others aren't just throwing weights around and are able to understand that using tempos will allow us to train better and help to make progress with our training.


What makes tempos good and how do we understand them in a program?


So we now understand that tempos are how long each repetition takes during an exercise, why is this important? It doesn't matter what you're training for, be it bodybuilding, strength training, speed training etc. Factoring in different repetition speeds can allow you to train for each of these goals more specifically and even without switching up exercises. Let's look at a squat for example, if you're bodybuilding then typically you want to increase time under tension which means performing your reps slowly (think slow eccentrics 3+ seconds), you might also want to hold a rep in the stretched position or the contracted position too. If we are strength training then the goal is to move the weight from A to B so when we perform a squat the eccentric phase of the movement will still be slow (think 2 to 3 seconds) however the concentric phase of the squat will be performed as quickly as possible as the focus is simply to get the weight up. Again with speed training, this ones fairly obvious, we want the entire movement of the squat to be performed rapidly to activate the fast twitch muscle fibres and train our legs to be explosive.


Typically when you come across tempos in a training program they are written out the following way; eccentric phase - stretched position - concentric phase - contracted position. Let's look at an example for a bench press and analyse it. 3-0-1-0, so this is how it would look in a typical training program, the first number usually stands for how long the eccentric phase of an exercise will last (in seconds), so in this case the eccentric phase of the bench press will last 3 seconds. The second number stands for how long the stretched position of an exercise is held for, during a bench press that would be at the bottom where the weight is on your chest and in this example it is held for 0 seconds. The third number indicates how long the concentric phase of the exercise lasts for. We have a 1 which means the concentric phase of your bench press which is the press itself will be fast and only last for 1 second. Finally the last number, in this case 0, stands for how long we last in the contracted part of the movement. For a bench press that'll be once you've pressed the weight back up and you are back in the starting position and in our example we have a 0 meaning that you would go straight into another rep without holding it in that top position.


Why is it important to know which number is which?


Now knowing which number represents which phase of an exercise is very important as different exercises can start from different positions. When you bench press or squat for example the first part of the movement is always the eccentric phase or the lowering of the weight where you take your muscle from a contracted position into a stretched position. If we use the tempo format for these it's easy as the exercise follows the layout in order. However if we look at something such as a lat pulldown or a barbell curl we are actually starting off with the target muscles in a stretched position meaning the first thing we do is contract the muscle. This means that, using the same tempo format, we are actually starting our exercise at the third number instead of the first. This is perfectly fine and we still follow the exact same format however it's very important to know which number represents which phase of an exercise and also which phase of the exercise you are starting off at depending on whatever exercise you are doing.


So if we look again at the typical format using the same numbers we previously used remember:


3- The first number is the eccentric part of the exercise, in this case a 3 second eccentric.

0- The second number is how long we hold the stretched position of the exercise, in this case 0 seconds.

1-The third number indicates how long the concentric phase of the exercise lasts, in this case 1 second.

0- The final number shows how long we hold the exercise in the contracted position for, in this case 0 seconds.


Here are a few examples of different tempos, see if you can work them out and leave your answers in the comments:

  • 2 - 1 - 1 - 1

  • 3 - 2 - 1 - 0

  • 2 - 0 - 1 - 2


Be sure to check out my other articles for more fitness content and knowledge. If you are looking for a program to follow go and check out my programs page and find the one that suits you!


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