How to use TEMPO in your workouts

June 10, 2019

This article was written by Ben Fox for Ultimate Performance.

Link to original article HERE


How to use TEMPO in your workouts

If you aren’t using tempo in your own routine, or your trainer isn’t using tempo in your workouts, then there is a huge piece missing if you want to get maximum results.

This applies to strength, muscle building, fat loss, sports performance and every other goal you can think of.



What is tempo?

Tempo refers to the speed of one repetition of an exercise.

How is it written?

Tempo is generally written with four numbers. For example, 3010 or 4110. If you’ve not seen this before, then it will look like a mysterious code. If you’ve used tempo before but never seen it written, then it may also be confusing. We’ll get onto explaining that below.


Why is it so important?



The Time Under Tension (TUT) for a set, how long you perform one exercise consecutively, is calculated by multiplying the number of repetitions of an exercise by the tempo.  The Time Under Tension of an exercise dictates your training result.   With no tempo – you are only guessing at that training result.

For example, performing 10 repetitions of a dumbbell chest press but only taking 20 seconds to do that would change your result compared with taking 60 seconds to perform the exact same number of repetitions.

If you want to build muscle, the optimal time under tension would be 40 to 90 seconds. If you perform your 10 chest presses in 20 seconds rather than 60, you will be getting a poor training stimulus for hypertrophy.  Therefore you NEED to know your tempo for each rep.

Tempo also lets you keep tension on the strongest part of the lift (the lowering phase) for longer.  This is the phase when most trauma is done to the muscle, which will result in greater muscle gains.  

In addition, tempo can also reduce momentum or isolate certain sections of a lift that need more work, helping you overcome sticking points.  For these reasons and many more, tempo is probably one of the most important but most forgotten workout variables.  Without tempo, you are not fully in control of the results you will get from training.

How is it written?

Let’s break down how tempo is written in numbers. Each number of the sequence refers to one full second.

First number: [3]010

This first number always refers to the lowering phase of the exercise, regardless of where in the exercise you start. For example, on a deadlift you do not start with the lowering phase of the movement, you obviously start with the lift from the ground. However, the tempo would still be written 3010 where the 3 refers to the time taken to lower the weight back to the floor. Remember, that should be three full seconds, not a rushed count of three.

Second Number: 3[0]10

The second number refers to any pauses taken after the lowering phase of the exercise. For example, on a bench press that would tell you if you were going to pause on the chest or not.

Third number: 30[1]0

This number refers to the actual lift portion of an exercise. On a squat, this would be once you’ve reached the lowest part of your squat and are now standing back up. If the third number is an X, then it means ‘explosive’. You must perform that lift as fast as humanly possible. With a heavy load, that might be quite slow, but your intention is still to move the weight quickly.

Fourth number: 301[0]

This number refers to any pause after you have performed your lifting phase. If you performed a hamstring curl this would tell you how long you are going to pause with the heel pulled right in towards the hamstring.

Example Exercise with Tempo

Exercise: Hamstring Curl
Tempo: 40X2

On a hamstring curl you start with the legs extended, rather than curled in, so you will ‘lift’ first. However, the tempo is still written with the lowering phase first.

In this example, you would curl the legs in as fast as possible (explosively - the third number), hold at the top for two seconds (the fourth number), then lower back down until the legs are straight over four seconds (the first number) and finally not pause (the second number) before lifting again.

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