Hurry Up & Slow Down! - Transform your routine by changing tempo.

By Dave DiFabio

When it comes to resistance training programs, most people keep track of their sets, repetitions, and weight. However, tempo is usually ignored. For most people, the thought of TEMPO never enters their mind. Many lifters are more concerned with how much they are lifting rather than how they are lifting. If your goal is to get bigger and stronger muscles, or even to get leaner, you should instead be focused on form and tempo.

When focusing on your tempo and keeping strict form, you will not be able to lift as much weight as you would if you utilized momentum. The most important thing to remember with regards to tempo is that you never want to train with a weight (load) that does not allow you to lift with a smooth and controlled motion.

Tempo is commonly expressed as the duration (number of seconds) assigned to a particular portion of the lift. Every lift has a "positive" or concentric contraction, and a "negative" or eccentric contraction. Some routines may ask for a pause between the positive and the negative portion. In other words you may pause at the top/bottom of a lift. A lift with the tempo of 4/0/2 is to be done with a count of 4 on the eccentric portion (negative), no pause at the bottom/top of the exercise and a count of 2 during the concentric part (positive). So it is the eccentric or negative part of the weight lifting exercise listed first, then the bottom/top, and finally the concentric or positive portion.

To do a squat with a tempo of 4/0/2, you would lower the weight to a count of 4, then push the weight back up to a count of 2 without pausing at the bottom.

Common tempos used in weight training fall within the following ranges:

Eccentric (Negative): 2 to 5 Seconds

Bottom/Top of Exercise: 0 to 1 Second

Concentric (Positive): 1 to 3 Seconds

How often you switch up your tempo depends on your goals. It could change every four to eight weeks if you're following a linear periodization plan or every workout session if you're following an undulating periodization plan. The idea is to prevent plateaus.

The guidelines presented above provide a number possible combinations. Generally, you want to focus more on the eccentric portion of the exercise. Muscles can generate more torque/force during a eccentric contraction compared to a concentric contraction. Furthermore the eccentric contractions has been shown to elicit more of the microscopic tears in the muscle fibers that are necessary for the muscles to then rebuild themselves stronger and bigger.

Tempos like 4/0/2, 3/0/1, 5/1/2 and others with more emphasis on the eccentric are widely used by weight trainers with the goals of gaining muscle mass. In most cases, the bottom/top portion of the exercise should stay at a zero count (no pause), but adding a pause in there from time to time can be beneficial. Pausing at the bottom of an exercise eliminates all momentum and can really make your muscles work harder in the concentric portion. Slow repetitions can help extend what many trainers call "time under tension". In terms of muscle mass, the more time your muscles spend under tension, the greater the training effect.

Transform your current routine by experimenting with tempo. It will make for some intense workout sessions.

If you've missed any of my past articles/newsletters, which include topics such as staying motivated and finding time to exercise during the holidays.... read them here:

Till next time....Train Like You Play, Play Like You Train.

Dave DiFabio MA, CSCS, USAW

Owner/Strength & Conditioning Coach - Team Speed Fitness LLC