At IFAST, all of our clients receive an individualized program that details the exercises, order of exercises, sets, reps, rest periods, and TEMPO. Each variable can be manipulated to create a different training adaptation (fat loss, hypertrophy, strength, etc.) so they are very important to take into consideration when following a program or creating your own.
Out of all of these variables I believe TEMPO is probably the least understood so today I am going to cover what this number means and why it is important.
At IFAST, tempo is indicated on the program with three numbers (e.g. 301, 202, 303, etc.). The first number indicates how long the eccentric portion of the movement should last, the middle number is how long you pause between the eccentric and concentric portions of the exercise, and the last number indicates how long the concentric portion of the movement should last. I know many of you are saying, “WHAT!?”. Don’t panic it is much easier than it sounds.
Eccentric contraction is when the muscle elongates under tension and is basically the lowering portion of the exercise. For example, the eccentric movement in a squat is when you lower down, for a bench press it is as you lower the weight toward your chest.
Concentric contraction is when the muscles shorten while generating force and is basically the lifting of the weight. Going back to the example above, the concentric movement in a squat is when you come from the bottom of the squat to the top. Similarly, for a bench press it is the movement portion where you push the dumbbells or barbell back up.
So let’s look at a few example tempos and how to understand them.
Bench Press with a 301 tempo – This means you would take 3 seconds to lower the weight and immediately press up quickly (1 second) with no pause at the bottom.
Squat with a 313 tempo – This means you would take 3 seconds to squat down, pause 1 second in the bottom, and take 3 seconds to come up.
Chins with a 301 tempo – This means you would take 3 seconds to lower yourself down and immediately pull yourself up as fast as possible.
The most common tempo prescription is a fairly long eccentric followed by a quick concentric with no pause in between. The reason the eccentric is fairly slow is because we want trainees to control the weight on the way down. It teaches you control and how to hit your “sweet spot”.
For example, if you are bench pressing and you lower the weight really quickly you may cause the weight to get off line, which will make it much harder for you to press back up.
A slow eccentric has also been shown to cause more muscle damage (this is a good thing), thereby increasing post-exercise energy expenditure. A bit of muscle damage can be a good thing because it forces our body to rebuild bigger and stronger muscles and tissues. And, this rebuilding process requires additional energy so you burn more calories later in the day.
Of course, we don’t always utilize a slow eccentric. For example, a deadlift is typically lowered rather quickly if a client is advanced or fairly strong as this movement can be hard on the body if lowered too slowly.
The concentric portion of the movement is often fast because by accelerating a weight you are able to recruit more muscle, which is always a good thing. It also develops power and will make you stronger.
There are many more advantages and disadvantages to particular tempo prescriptions, but I hope this helps you understand what TEMPO is and its importance.
Have a great week and holiday!