Spending Time With Tempo

Have you ever heard your coaches mention “Tempo Training” or “Time Under Tension” but weren’t quite sure of the meaning? Or perhaps you’ve seen a string of numbers together, like “32X1,” next to a workout and had absolutely no idea what these numbers were referencing?

Instead of focusing only on going heavy during a lifting session, Tempo Training is essentially the idea of spending greater time in specific positions or working through a particular cadence during a movement.  It is one of the greatest tools you can use for developing longer term strength. 

First, let’s make sure you understand how to read it. I’ll break down the example mentioned above with the tempo “32X1”. How this number reads remains constant, regardless of the movement performed. I’ll assign this tempo to a hypothetical Back Squat scenario:

  • The first number of Tempo (in this case, the ‘3’) refers to how many seconds are spent while in the eccentric or downward portion of a movement. With a Back Squat, this would be taking a total of 3 seconds to get from our standing position down into the bottom of the squat itself. 
  • Our second number (‘2’ in this example) refers to how many seconds are spent in the actual bottom position, or in this case, the bottom of the squat. 
  • The third number refers to the seconds taken during the concentric or upward portion of the movement to get back to the starting point. In our example, we see an ‘X’. X specifically means “explode” and move as quickly as physically possible for you as an individual. 
  • And finally, the fourth number (in this case, ‘1’) dictates the seconds needed to be taken at the top position of the movement. 

For someone performing this Back Squat, he/she would descend for 3 seconds, hold for 2 seconds in the bottom of the squat, stand up as quickly as possible, then breathe and rest for just 1 second before repeating.

Now, let’s talk about the WHY. What are the incentives to incorporate this style of training into our workouts? 

Movement Control & Body Awareness: We need to make sure we are comfortable in all positions of a movement in order to be strong enough to complete it. This means we are building actual strength in the movement instead of relying purely on something like momentum. It also allows you as the athlete time to really feel the appropriate muscles being used at the appropriate times.

Addressing Weaknesses: Tempo Training also gives your coach time to see and correct any issues when the movement is broken down at a slower pace with lighter load, before an athlete has gone too heavy. This allows for strength to be built while also reducing the risk of injury.

Greater Muscle Growth: By placing your muscles under tension for longer periods, you are actually recruiting more muscle fibers, which ultimately leads to greater muscle replenishment and development.

Increased Work Capacity: By training more volume at lower loads while under this tension, you will be adding to your capacity during normal strength training without Tempo, too. Think about it – if you’re making the movement “harder”, imagine how much smoother a normal training session will feel!

Exercise Variety: It’s not just about the gains! It can also be about the sense of something new or different and having a variety of tools in your arsenal. Sometimes it’s great to just good old-fashioned mix it up!

At the end of the day, lifting safely while making progress and ultimately getting stronger is a pretty great thing. If you have any questions at all about Tempo Training, please don’t hesitate to ask your Loco coaches!


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