To Tempo or Not to Tempo
It’s Not Really a Question
Tempo training is a powerful way to build muscle, burn fat and see faster results. And it doesn’t even have to change the workout programs you already follow.
What is tempo training anyway?
Tempo training is setting specific time frames for each phase of an exercise.
Every exercise has 2 directions: the up and the down movement (but if you want to be technical, it’s really the eccentric and concentric movements).
Between each of those phases is a change in direction.
That means every single rep can be divided into it’s 4 different phases.
When we follow tempo training, we assign a specific amount of time for reach of those different phases.
Here’s an example: A Squat
- Down Phase: You would start your squat moving down in a slow and controlled way, taking 4 seconds to go from standing to the bottom of your squat.
- Change in Direction: You then hit your change in direction at the bottom of the squat, and here we’ll pause for 2 seconds.
- Up Phase: Then you quickly explode from the bottom of the squat to standing, as fast as you can.
- Change in Direction: Then pause for 1 second at the top before you repeat.
To write out your tempo, each phase gets a number, then you just write them in a row.
So the example above would be 4.2.X.1. (the X is for explosion). Simple right?
So the question is:
Is tempo training really better than non-tempo?
The quick answer: yes!
It’s about working smarter, not harder. You can get more benefit out of the same number of reps.
Because tempo is a specific speed, you have to be able to control your body the entire rep.
Let’s think about that squat. On a self-selected pace, what most people are used to doing in their workouts, we actually cut out lots of opportunities for our muscles to be engaged. Instead of controlling the movement down, we let gravity do a lot of the work, helping us drop the bar down. Then we only have to engage our muscle when we stand back up.
With tempo, that controlled movement down forces more muscles to be engaged, activating your central nervous system and increasing your muscle threshold – meaning you’re working much harder during the same movement.
So instead of asking if you should be tempo training, the better question is:
What tempo should you be training?
When most people think ‘tempo’, they automatically assume it means slow. But that’s not the case. Tempo training can be fast and explosive.
In fact, a fast tempo with a heavy weight is better for increasing your protein synthesis. More explosive movements activate more muscle fibers, produce a more powerful force and ultimately leads to greater muscle gains.
But slow tempo can still be good too.
When your tempo is slow, you give your muscles a longer ‘Time Under Tension’ – the length of time you are actually bearing weight.
If you were doing 10 reps as fast as possible, let’s say you could fly through them in 20 seconds.
But with a slow tempo, something like 41X1, it takes you about 6 seconds per rep. Instead of only 20 seconds of work, you’ve got an entire minute those muscles are working under that load.
Because your muscles are challenged for longer periods of time with the slower tempos, you get a higher epoch – the increase in your metabolism post workout. And that leads to a higher fat burn throughout the entire day.
So what’s the best tempo to follow?
It always depends and it always changes.
In a nutshell, faster explosive tempos are good for muscle building. Slower tempos are good for fat burning.
But every program, regardless of your goals, should include a variety of tempos. Switching your tempos keeps your muscles adapting and challenged – and that’s good for any goal.
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