Do you use tempo in your training? If you’ve answered no, you’re wrong. You are actually using tempo every time you work out and you don’t even realize it. When most people train, they will lower the weight about as quickly as they move it. Without realizing it, these people are using a 1010 tempo. But what does that even mean? How do I apply it? And how can it make me bigger and stronger and/or reach my goals quicker? Well, here’s how:

The best way I’ve heard it explained is that if you are only using reps and sets in your training program, it is two-dimensional. Adding tempo will create a three-dimensional training regimen that you can manipulate in an exponentially greater way. 

Tempo was originally written in three-digit code. Later, Charles Poliquin further promoted the idea and added a fourth digit. For example, 301 subsequently became 3010.

Now, let’s dissect tempo. Regardless of where the exercise starts, the first digit in tempo is always the eccentric portion. The second digit represents the pause after the eccentric. The third digit is the concentric phase (usually written as “X” to define explosiveness, but still carries a value of one second when adding the numbers together) and the fourth digit represents the pause at the end of the concentric phase.

Man Holding Dumbbells

For example, a deadlift starts from the ground. You then lift the bar up as fast as you can and then lower the weight through the eccentric phase. The squat is the complete opposite in that you lower the weight first through the eccentric phase and then stand up as quickly as possible. Regardless of the exercise, tempo is always written with the eccentric portion first. So, a 40X0 tempo in the deadlift is where you lift as fast as you can with zero seconds at the top then lower it for four seconds with zero seconds at the bottom and repeat this cycle for the prescribed amount of reps. 

So, how does this help your training? Because time under tension (TUT) helps to dictate training stimulus. TUT is the amount of time your body, or a specific muscle or group of muscles, is under load. This means that if a hypertrophy protocol is 8 to 12 reps, so is 40 to 70 seconds of TUT. So, if on a bench press you normally drop the weight pretty quickly and push it back up quickly then you could look at that as a 1010 tempo or two seconds for each repetition. Two seconds multiplied by 12 reps is 24 seconds of TUT. This possibly limits your maximal hypertrophy gains.

Now, if you perform that same set of barbell bench presses at a 40X0 tempo you will lower the bar down over the course of four seconds to your chest and then push it up as fast as possible. This will be five seconds per repetition and over the course of 12 repetitions you will now have worked through that set for 60 seconds of TUT. This falls squarely in the middle of that 40-70 second hypertrophy window and will greatly increase your hypertrophy gains.

Workout Tips

  • There are many exercises, olympic lifts for example, that may be defined as X0X0.
  • Learn the different ranges for the different TUT – relative strength, hypertrophy, etc.
  • You won’t be able to do the same amount of weight that you normally can for the amount of reps you are trying.