Tempo training is one creative approach to progressively overloading your clients when they get stuck or bored. As personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts, we know firsthand that the human body’s response to training comes in peaks and valleys, and realistically, plateaus are inevitable.

When progress halts for extended periods of time, we also know it is time to shake things up. This is where holding a few techniques in your back pocket can keep your clients seeing gains, and you in business.

Exercisers are going to see positive strength gains, muscle growth, and weight loss when progressive overload techniques are applied. But sometimes creative approaches are needed ensure clients are indeed achieving progressive overload.

One approach is to introduce clients to tempo training.

Let’s take a look at the WHAT, WHEN, HOW, and WHY to consider tempo training with the expressed goal of increasing hypertrophy, endurance, and/or strength. 

What Is Tempo Lifting?

Tempo lifting is the speed and time under tension (TUT) that muscle fibers are recruited and in the eccentric, isometric, and concentric phases of strength training.

Traditionally, tempo training is expressed in a ratio of 3:0:1:1- 3 seconds eccentric contraction (muscle lengthening phase), 0 seconds rest at the bottom, 1 second concentric contraction (muscle shortening phase), and 1 second isometric hold at the top.

Playing with TUT ratios can be a simple yet effective stimuli for progressive overloads.

When Is Tempo Training Appropriate?

Tempo lifting is appropriate for hypertrophy, strength, and endurance, but each one of those goals yields different eccentric tempos. Applying the right eccentric TUT should be correlated with your clients’ goals.

When organizing the workout, it is also worth putting some thought into the number of reps, and the number of sets to incorporate tempo.

Some professionals argue that tempo can be done with any exercise, but may be unnecessary. It is also suggested that slower TUT exercises can be combined with regular tempo exercises. In other words, not all the exercises in a session need to be slowed down. While some may propose using tempo at the end of a workout, others may apply tempo technique before or even throughout the workout.

Tempo TrainingHow To Program Tempo Training

The following chart is a guide to eccentric pace and number of reps based on training goals:

Hypertrophy: 2-3 second eccentric, 1-2 seconds concentric, 1 second isometric for 6-8 reps; Example: 3:1:1

Strength: 1-2 second eccentric, 1-2 seconds concentric, 1 second isometric 3-5 reps; Example 1:2:1

Endurance: 2-6 seconds eccentric, 1-2 seconds concentric, 1 second isometric 8-12 reps; Example: 5:2:1

Once clients have either begun to plateau or acclimate to these tempos, they can begin playing with their pace to continue creating a stimulus response to imposed demands.

Why Use It?

Clients may ask why they should play with tempos rather than simply do more sets, more reps, or heavier weight. There are a few responses to consider:

  • Tempo training is a more efficient use of time to apply progressive overload than simply adding extra repetitions or sets to a training program. Work smarter; not longer.
  • Tempos can also be accelerated or slowed down in order to create more power in explosive movements or power movements.
  • Tempo variation within the context of current goals may be the more appropriate change to make rather than changing weight or volume, which may take a client out of his or her periodization stage.

Other points to consider with tempo appropriateness are:

  • Which exercises begin with the eccentric vs. concentric phase
  • Negatives
  • Compound exercises
  • Supersets
  • Drop sets
  • Training volume
  • % of 1 rep max (lighter loads allow for slower tempo)

Have you implemented tempo training variations with your clients before?

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  1. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/4931/weight-lifting-tempo-amp-sets-how-to-select-the-right-sets-for-your-clients
  2. https://www.lookgreatnaked.com/blog/how-fast-should-you-lift-to-maximize-muscle-growth/
  3. https://personaltrainertoday.com/resistance-training-fast-slow-way-go
  4. https://www.verywellfit.com/what-is-weight-training-tempo-3498384
  5. https://www.t-nation.com/training/new-science-of-time-under-tension
  6. https://www.t-nation.com/training/questions-about-tempo-training
  7. http://www.1rmperformance.com/blog/item/82-how-to-use-tempo-in-your-training-program

Theresa Perales

Theresa Perales has an MA in Spanish, and is an ESL teacher at San Diego State University (SDSU). After years of struggling with her weight, she decided to give exercise a try. A passion for health and fitness grew instantly and inspired her to become certified as a personal trainer with NFPT, and as a group fitness instructor with AFAA Group Fitness and Madd Dog Athletics® Spinning. Theresa believes that nutrition and fitness are not about aesthetics but ultimately about feeling healthy and empowered.