What is Tempo Training?
Tempo refers to rep speed. And it's just as important as sets and reps for building size, strength, or power. You can slow down different parts of a rep, hold the rep longer at certain points, or speed up the lifting or lowering of a rep to get different adaptations depending on your goal.
Tempo is also a progression method. For example, think of your bench press PR. If you're able to lift that same weight using a slower tempo or pause the bar on your best for several seconds before pushing it up, that's a sign you've gotten stronger.
Here are three tempo training methods for newfound strength and size:
This is a fantastic way to build muscle. It checks all three hypertrophy boxes:
- Mechanical Tension
- Muscular Damage
- Metabolic Stress
Here's how it works:
- Hold an exercise in an isometric position for 6 seconds. For example, the top of a row or the bottom of a goblet squat.
- Now do 2 normal reps.
- Hold the isometric position again, this time for 5 seconds.
- Do 2 reps.
- Hold again, this time for 4 seconds.
- Repeat the descending hold times until you're down to a 1-second hold.
Too easy? Make it tougher by starting with a 10-second hold.
Perform descending isometric sets with single-joint isolation exercises that don't require a lot of technical ability. Machines work great too. Or try it with push-ups, inverted rows, and goblet squats.
Do 2-3 sets and take plenty of rest between them.
I learned this method from strength coach Mladen Jovanovic. To do it, just add an isometric hold to the beginning and end of the set:
- Hold the first rep isometrically for a few seconds.
- Do your reps.
- Hold the last rep isometrically for a few seconds.
The reps are "sandwiched" between the holds. This forces you to perform the exercise with intent and technical proficiency. It also gives you more time in specific joint positions to help build strength and size.
Perform each hold for 3-5 seconds. For reps, anything from 5 to 12 works great.
This tempo method works great with big compound exercises like presses, pulls, and unilateral lower-body work. Just add it to some of the main exercises you're already performing.
Coach Jovanovic recommends using this method when you're stressed, returning from a period of no training, or when you're looking for a new challenge.
Concentric-only exercises build strength and power. The "concentric" is the lifting portion of the rep. This method is easy on the joints since there's no eccentric/negative stress.
- Lift the weight as explosively as possible.
- Lower the weight quickly. There should be very little tension on the muscles.
- Pause and start the next rep from a dead-stop position. You may even briefly let go of the bar or dumbbells before doing the next rep.
Remember, lower the weight quickly. "Limited eccentric involvement" is the fancy term. For the deadlift, you may even drop it from the top if you have the appropriate plates and flooring.
Doing an exercise emphasizing the concentric phase involves a higher level of nervous system involvement. You'll be working at higher bar speeds and velocities. Over time, this can help increase strength. Remember, getting stronger isn't just about adding weight but moving light-to-moderate weights as violently as possible.