A guide to tempo based training
I wanted to take this opportunity for my first ever blog post to discuss a training methodology that is very near and dear to me and is what I recommend to anybody if they want accelerated responses in the weight room, tempo training. This guide provides an explanation of tempo training, time under tension, how to read a tempo prescription, and how to apply it with your own training.
Tempo based training is not so much an end all be all training style, but an approach to training that should be considered a tool in the toolbox of acute training variables. Tempo relates to the speed of an exercise and the rate of how fast/slow we want to control said exercise. This emphasis of training has been proven to be successful when applied to every demographic, from bodybuilders to cross country runners, and we have strength coaches Ian King and the late Charles Poliquin to thank for bringing it to light.
Take a look around the gym next time you go, notice how people are performing an exercise in a set, do you see people controlling the weight? They are cutting themself short of a very unique piece of muscle response which is known as "time under tension". Time under tension is a key element to improve muscle strength, hypertrophy (growth), and endurance. The thought is if we are able to control the weight for a timed duration each rep, that will add an increased training effect by prolonging the time it takes to complete the set thus recruiting more of the working muscle and fatiguing the area at a higher rate compared to just cranking out reps.
Poliquin trained coaches speak numerously about an ideal time under tension per set depending on your training goal and it goes as follows:
- Muscle Strength: 0-20 seconds
- Hypertrophy (muscle growth): 20-70 seconds
- Muscle Endurance: 50-120 seconds
Now this information is all great and I probably have your attention, but how do you know when/where to control the rep during a set? There are 4 parts to a lift and understanding the 4 parts of a lift will help one better understand when and where to apply a tempo. These 4 parts are displayed in a numerical sequence such as 3010, 3120, 1510.
1) Eccentric: the part of the lift when the muscle is lengthening (i.e. going down in a back squat).
2) Muscle stretch: when we are at the point of the lift where the working muscle is stretched (i.e. bottom of a bench press when the bar is touching the chest)
3) Concentric: part of the lift when the muscle is shortening (i.e. pressing the bar back up in a bench press after it touched the chest)
4) Muscle shortened: top of the lift, least amount of tension from the weight on the working muscle (i.e. standing up tall after squatting)
Let us use a 3010 tempo prescription with the back squat,
from the top of the lift, there is minimal tension applied to the working muscles. He then descends from the top to the bottom (eccentric) in 3 seconds (3010), followed by a zero second hold when the muscle is stretched at the bottom (3010), then springs up from the bottom in the concentric phase (3010), to finish with a zero second hold at the top and goes right back into the next rep (3010).
This emphasis on training can be applied to every single exercise that involves a machine, or free weight.
Should you use tempo in every lift in every workout?
It depends on your training age (how many years you've been training consistently)
- 1-2 years: 1-2 exercises per workout
- 3-4 years: 1-5 exercises per workout
- 4+ years: 1-8 exercises per workout
These numbers mainly correlate with adherence to training and environmental stressors.
As your training age increases, so does the requirement for a more challenging stimulus for a muscle growth response.
Here's an example of a lower-body workout for someone with 3-4 years of training experience.
A1) Barbell back squat
- 5x6 (4010)
A2) Box jumps (plyometrics are excluded and cannot apply a tempo)
B1) DB split squat - front foot elevated
- 4x8ea (2111)
B2) Standing calf raise
- 4x10 (1310)
C1) Adductor machine
- 3x15 (1210)
C2) Leg extension machine
- 3x12 (2010)
Email or DM on Instagram if you have any more questions!