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Are you missing out on the tempo strength gains?

Photo by Hipcravo on Unsplash


Have you ever seen a daily workout call for a lift with four numbers next to it? We’re talking about a movement description that looks like this: “Back Squat 3×5 3011”. You already know what the 3×5 means (three sets of five reps), but maybe you’re wondering what the 3011 is for.


That would be a tempo prescription. That’s right. Those numbers are prescribing how fast/slow you should execute the movement. More specifically, the 4 numbers dictate how long each phase of the movement should take:


Eccentric: the eccentric phase of a movement is basically the part where you move with gravity. An easy example of this is the lowering of the weight in the squat. The first number above (3) is saying “take 3 seconds to lower the weight down to the bottom of the squat”.


First pause: the second number above dictates the number of seconds to pause right after the eccentric. In the back squat example, the number “0” is telling us not to pause at all at the bottom.


Concentric: this phase of the movement is the part where you move against gravity. In the back squat it’s when you stand the weight back up. A 3012 tempo dictates that the concentric should take 1 second.


Second pause: finally, the fourth and last number in the tempo prescription dictates the number of seconds spent at “the top” of the lift, right after the concentric and just before the eccentric of the next rep. In our example above, the tempo calls for a 2 second pause at the top of the squat.


Note that some movements start with an eccentric (back squat), and others start with a concentric (shoulder press), but the order after that is the same. It’s also possible for the tempo to use the letter X instead of a number in order to dictate an explosive phase. This would typically happen for a concentric phase.


Ok, cool. So why should we do tempo training? Lots of great reasons, actually. 

  1. Better movement control: control is safety and safety is a lower risk of injury. Not to mention that control involves the activation of smaller stabilizer muscles and connective tissues. Be in control.
  2. Technique improvement: a great one for beginners and veterans alike. Slowing a movement down will help you become aware of what your body is doing in every phase. Rounding your back on the deadlift but not aware it? Try a tempo on the way down next time you have the barbell in your hands.
  3. Healing injuries: this is a big one. The latest research in tendon health seems to suggest that eccentric loading is one of the more effective methods at treating tendon overuse injuries. More on this in an upcoming blog post.
  4. Time under tension: The good stuff right here. TUT is generally correlated with hypertrophy (increase in muscle size) and consequentially, strength gains. 


What more do you want? Get some tempo in your training! If you have an injury, talk to your coach about modifying using tempo. Need a little more attention? We can help. Check out our custom design program and email us if you’re interested (or talk to your coaches about it).


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