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Slow it Down: Everything you need to know about tempos

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Tempos. You may have heard of them but what are they? How do they work? And will they help me with my training?

There are four important numbers which are often found next to the sets and reps when you are prescribed a certain exercise. These numbers aren’t just there to confuse you…In fact they are actually there to guide you in so many ways and they can be very beneficial lifters of any level. Let’s slow it down and take a look!

What are they?
Simply put, tempos are the speed at which you perform the lift.

How do they work?
There are four numbers which each describe a part of the lift and each number represents the amount of time in seconds. Take a look at the example below:


First number – Eccentric – The lowering down phase
Second number – Pause at the midpoint
Third number – Concentric – The Up Phase
Fourth number – Pause at the top

Now let’s apply the tempo above to a Back Squat. We would want to see 3s on the way down, no pause in the bottom, explosive on the way up and then 1s pause to reset for the next rep.

Most of the time it’s that simple however the confusion may arise when looking at other movements such as pull ups or bicep curls. Remember the eccentric phase is the always the first number and the concentric phase is the always the third number. If you can get the hang of this then you will be good to go!

Will they help me with my training?

As I mentioned earlier the use of tempos can be beneficial for anyone whether you’re new to the gym or you’ve being lifting weights for years.

Imagine it is your first few weeks of training. For most of us this is the time when your body is taking baby steps and attempting to learn all of these new movements. Tempo work allows us to slow down and focus on each exercise to ensure you are performing correct technique and reinforces good movement patterns. Below
are a few of the benefits you would see from applying tempo work for any athlete:

  • Improved body awareness
  • Improved control of lifts
  • Development of connective tissue strength
  • Improved stability and coordination
  • Focus on muscular elements versus tendinous elements (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.)

For many advanced lifters the manipulation of tempos can be used to breakthrough plateaus or target any weaknesses. At this level tempo training can still provide the basic benefits we listed above however let’s look at how you can change the speed of the lift to provide other benefits:

  • Pause reps – Pausing in certain positions to focus on concentric phase
  • Speed reps – Power Development
  • Time under tension (TUT) – The amount of time you muscles are under tension – Increase muscle growth and strength
  • Isometric holds – Pausing to increase strength in certain positions


Next time you are reading the tempo for an exercise whether it’s on the board or in your own program have a think about the intention behind the numbers. Prescribing tempos can be just as important as the sets, reps, rest periods and other parts of program design. So remember when you are pausing in that squat or when that 3s lower feels like forever…There is a reason it’s part of your training and it’s all part of helping you reach your goals.

Coach Adam