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Tempo training: What is it and how to apply it in your training

What is tempo training?

Tempo training is adding a set tempo or speed into your training to help you build more muscle, improve strength and aid fat loss . This essentially means that you have another factor added into your training, which is the speed at which you perform your reps. I like to think of it as it's not just the what you're doing but how you're doing it. Next time you go the gym and train weights, ask yourself, how fast or slow you're performing your rep, and are you working the speed to your advantage?

Aside from helping you to build more muscle, increase strength and aid with your fat loss goals, it has a few great extra benefits that I think you should know about. First of all it helps you improve your technique. I find a much higher correlation between rushed movements and technique error. Secondly, tempo helps you to identify where your weak links are within your movements, as very often our stronger muscles overpower our weaker muscles when we move faster. Finally, tempo training can help build eccentric strength which is brilliant for injury prevention, so I think it's a method that is worth considering incorporating into your training.

Understanding time under tension

When it comes to tempo training, it’s important to understand what 'Time under tension' (or TUT) is. Time under tension can be defined is the time that given muscles or muscle groups are subject to a load during an exercise set. Different times under tension elicit slightly different results. For example, if your goal is to build muscle mass then as a rule of thumb the TUT you would want to aim for is sets lasting 30-40 seconds, regardless of the number of reps you’re doing. However if you’re goal is to lose fat, then you would want to aims for a TUT between 45-75 seconds.

What does it look like?

Tempo can be broken down into 4 separate parts so you will see it written as 4 separate numbers (for example, 3010). Each of the numbers represent a different part of any movement. Here is what they mean:

  1. The first number represents the eccentric component of the movement (the lowering part in which we control a weight against gravity). An example of this is the downward phase in a bench press movement.

  2. The second number represents the pause in the stretched position of a movement. For example, a pause at the bottom of the squat position. Quick tip: unless you are training specifically for strength, the majority of the time you will see this written as 0.

  3. The third number in the sequence represents the concentric part (and is often the only part people think of). This part of the movement is the lifting phase, where we work against gravity to lift weight. For example, pulling up on a deadlift.

  4. The final number represents the pause in the contracted/shortened part of the movement. This number is also often written as 0, apart from when look at pulling movements- such as rows or facepulls.

How can I add it to my weights routine?

The golden rule here is what I mentioned earlier about time under tension. The optimal TUT will change depending on your desired goal.

Tempo training for fat loss:

As I mentioned earlier, if your goal is fat loss the ideal TUT's when weight training is 45-75 seconds. So say for example you have 15 squats in your programme. To target fat loss, you can use a tempo of 3010 which gives us a TUT of 60 seconds -- which is within the range that we were aiming for. This would look like 3 seconds for the lowering phase, no pause, 1 second up, 0 pause so it would take you 4 seconds to complete a repetition. Times that by 15 reps and you get 60 seconds to complete a set.

You can also use a tempo of 4010 for the same exercise and rep range as it still falls within the 45-77 seconds range, however I would not advise using an eccentric component of more than 4 unless you are specifically told otherwise.

Tempo training for muscle mass:

If your goal is to build muscle mass then you would want to aim for sets lasting around 30-40 seconds. In comparison to tempo training for fat loss, training for strength or building muscle mass usually falls within a smaller rep range which would mean you are more likely to have a longer time under tension. Say for example you are training 5 reps in your set of squats. To hit this ideal tempo range, you can use the following tempo: 4020. This essentially means it would take you 6 seconds to perform 1 rep, and 30 seconds to complete a set, which is within the 30-40 second window.

Your muscle fibres are made up of different muscle groups which may mean you want to experiment with different TUT's to see which works best for you and your goals.

It's not the most straight forward approach when it comes to training so it can get a little confusing, but it is worth exploring and can provide some real great benefits. The scope of tempo training goes much deeper than this brief overview but following this, I hope that you understand this area more so that you can decide whether you want to give this training approach a go to see if it is right for you.

Keep training and enjoy the results!

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