You might have noticed Coach Tom prescribes a lot of tempo work. And for good reason!
Be it tempo back squats, front squats or goblet squats, or tempo pull-ups, ring rows, or push-ups, there are many reasons we include tempo work in your training program.
1. Helps Improve Movement Patterns
Because tempo work forces you to slow things down, it allows you to focus on and reiterate perfect mechanics. Slowing a movement down allows you to really feel each part of the movement, ultimately helping you move better and more consistently. On a similar note, tempo work is a great way to address and fix any positional weaknesses in any given movement.
2. Helps Build Strength
Tempo work means you’ll be spending more time under tension, which is a key component in building strength.
Tempo work adds variety to your training by giving your body a new stimulus—another key to helping you continuously make improvements.
4. Protects and preserves your nervous system
Tempo work allows you to basically get more bang for you buck. When you lift weight at percentages that are close to you maximum strength, you put a big strain on your nervous system. So tempo work allows you to work at lower percentages, but the more time under tension means you’ll still get the benefits of a heavier load but without frying your nervous system.
In short, because it puts less strain on your nervous system, your recovery will be faster so you’ll be able to train more.
OK, now let’s get to figuring out how to read a prescribed tempo:
First, you need to understand the difference between the concentric and eccentric portions of a movement:
The eccentric portion of the movement is the “negative” part of any movement. During this portion of the movement, the muscles lengthen while producing force. During a squat, it’s when you lower into the squat, and during a push-up it’s where you lower your body to the ground.
The concentric portion of the movement is when the muscle contracts and shortens. While this isn’t the scientific way to describe it, it’s essentially the “working part” of the movement. During a squat, it’s where you’re working your butt off to get out of the hole and stand back up, and during a push-up it’s when you’re pushing yourself off the ground.
The two other pieces of the puzzle to understand tempo are the top and the bottom positions. Real simple, the bottom of a squat is when you’re, well, at the bottom of the squat, and the top position is when you’re fully standing up. The bottom of a pull-up is where you’re at a deadhang position with straight arms, and the top is when you have your chin over the bar.
OK, now that we have that sorted out….
The first number of the tempo prescription is always the eccentric portion of the movement. The second number is the bottom position, the third number is the concentric portion of the movement, and the fourth is the top position.
Therefore @3131 means:
Eccentric: 3 (seconds)
Bottom: 1 (second)
Concentric: 3 (seconds)
Top: 1 (second)
Consider a tempo of @3131 for a back squat: This means we want you to take 3 seconds to descend into a squat (eccentric). Then we want you to rest for 1 second at the bottom, followed by 3 seconds to stand up (concentric), and finally 1 second to pause at the top.
In a pull-up, this means, this tempo means 3 seconds to slowly lower, 1 second to hang out at the bottom in the deadhang hold position, 3 seconds to pull your chin to the bar, and then 1 second to hold with your chin over the bar.
Still confused? Talk to your coach for an in-person explanation.