Tempo for Bigger Gains


By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

Whether you are a newbie in the game of training, a seasoned athlete looking to gain the competitive edge or a general fitness enthusiasts trying to look great naked and have more confidence, utilizing tempo within your training programs can help cement proper movement patterns, strengthen weak points and burn a little extra calorie while boosting the precious hormones necessary for greater progress.

So what is tempo? Simply, tempo is how quickly you produce different phases of a given exercise or movement.

Usually tempo is described using 3 to 4 phases (described by a 3-4 number system) including the eccentric phase (lengthening or down phase), isometric (bottom or transition phase) and the concentric phase (shortening or up phase). Some will also throw in another isometric phase at the starting point of an exercise, but for the purpose of this post we will only focus on the first 3.

For example, let’s look at a squat. As you descend into the squat you are performing the eccentric phase (going down). At the bottom of the squat, right before you are about to come back up, you are in the isometric or transition phase. Lastly, coming up from the bottom of a squat is the concentric phase.

Using tempo with the squat might look something like a 3, 1, 2 tempo or 3 seconds on the way down, a 1 second pause at the bottom and 2 seconds to return to the starting position. This is the same for any exercise such a deadlift, push up, row, lunge, step up, etc.

By manipulating the tempo, you can better achieve certain qualities and goals, and better build a more resilient body that you can slap an S on the front of and feel good about it…man or woman!

When you are first learning a new pattern, try utilizing a slower tempo such as a 3, 2, 2 tempo so you can better groove a quality pattern, spend more time in the difficult phases (down and transition) and build eccentric strength. This will help solidify proper movement, set a foundation for progress and prevent injury.

Once you achieve a good pattern you can change the tempo to make it a little more explosive on the concentric phase and then decrease the transition phase time…especially if you are an athlete looking to increase athletic potential. You may go to a 3, 1, 1 tempo for example.

If you are trying to increase muscle size (muscle hypertrophy) as well as torch extra fat, also utilizing a slower tempo is useful. When load is sufficient, increasing the time under tension of that load promotes greater stress on the tissues and results in a more optimal hormonal response for muscle growth…as long as nutrition is on par as well! And if you are going for fat loss, more time under tension requires more work and caloric expenditure.

If you are trying to maximize athletic qualities (strength speed, power, agility, etc.) using a quicker tempo is more task specific. In practice or games your body does not have the time to consciously get into proper movements or take time to transition from deceleration to acceleration. In this case, a quicker more explosive tempo such as 1, 0, X (a 1 second eccentric, 0 second transition and a concentric that is as explosive as possible) can and should be used, BUT ONLY <– read that again, when patterns are perfected from building a base of proper movement and slower tempos FIRST!!!


Manipulating the tempo at which you perform movements/exercises is a great way to further progress and get more specific with your training.

If you are learning a new pattern, use a slower tempo with less intensity (resistance). If you are looking to maximize muscle hypertrophy and fat loss, use a slower tempo with sufficient load. And if you are looking to maximize athletic performance (strength, power, agility, etc.) using a quicker, more explosive tempo will be more specific to practice and sport.

Keep track of the tempos used with the 3 number system and see what works best for you. There are tons of combinations that can be utilized, but the overall principles described above do not change.

If you found this information useful make sure to send it along to your friends and family and leave any questions or comments below…have you used tempo training in the past? How did it work?



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