Tempo Training

You may see four numbers/letters after an exercise, this is the tempo that the movement should be performed at. 32X1 does not mean 32 sets of 1 rep (as someone told me last week). These numbers determine the speed and control of the exercise prescribed. There are a number of benefits to using these numbers properly and correct tempo training with yield great results over time.

First, let’s look at how to read the tempo. Using my example 32X1:

3 – the first number always refers to the eccentric (descent) portion of a movement. Some movements start at this number like squats and dips, but other movements, like pull-ups and deadlifts, wouldn’t. The 3 refers to how many seconds it should take to get from the top of the movement to the bottom

2 – this is what happens at the bottom. In this example, you would spend 2 seconds at the bottom of the exercise.

X – the third number/letter is the concentric (ascent) portion of a movement. This will be the starting position for movements like pull-ups and deadlifts that start by ascending first. You can have letters or numbers in this space. X means explode or A would mean assisted (someone helping you, or a jump).

1 – the fourth and final number is what happens at the top. For a squat, this is at the top where you would take a breath before the next rep. In a pull-up, this would be a hold at the top.

Understanding the tempo and the exercise you are doing will help in determining where you start in the sequence. The way the tempo is written NEVER changes but where you start does, depending on the exercise.

The benefits of Tempo Training

  1. Measurable progress – by using the same tempo over a period of time, we can measure progress. A squat where you dive to the bottom, catch the bounce and drive up, is very different from a controlled squat down with a pause in the bottom.
  2. Variety – changing up the tempo of an exercise can make it feel totally different. Last week we had a 2s pause at the bottom of a deadlift whilst maintaining tension. Everyone noticed increased hamstring soreness the day after.
  3. Injury prevention – muscles recover quicker than tendons and ligaments. Slower movements (especially in the eccentric phase) will help to build muscle whilst being more friendly on the joints, tendons & ligaments.
  4. Better understanding – going through controlled reps will allow you to develop a better understanding of the movement and what each position feels like, which muscles are working and where your body feels best.
  5. Building positional strength – if you always stand up from the snatch and take steps forward then some pauses in the catch position can help to build more strength in that position, allowing for a better lift overall.

It’s important to understand that each tempo is very different and therefore the amount of weight or reps you can do will vary. Stick to the tempo and don’t always chase weights. Progress over the long term will be far greater and injuries far less. 

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