What is tempo work and why does it work?

In a world full of CrossFit, F45, and Orange Theory type workouts- tempo work gets hardly enough recognition and praise.

Tempo work is the holy grail of all things lifting.

It could very well be one of the biggest things missing from your workouts.

Lifting weights is all about time under tension or TUT and exhibiting control over your entire range of motion.

Not all sets and reps are created equal.

Tempo is ALWAYS written following this order: eccentric, midpoint, concentric, end.

Depending on the lift you’re performing tempo with, the eccentric portion and the concentric portion are NOT ALWAYS happening in that order.

Example: a back squat starts with an eccentric phase. As you lower down into the squat, you’re elongating the muscles of the legs, and so this is the eccentric portion. A convention deadlift, however, begins with a concentric phase. As you pull the barbell off the floor, you’re contracting your muscles, not elongating them.

However, you do not reverse the written order of the tempo!

A back squat with a written tempo of 3111 (or will be performed as: lower23, pause, up1, pause.

A deadlift with a written tempo of 3111 (or will be performed as: lift1, pause, down23, pause.

See the difference? It’s written the same, but not performed the same because the first number in a tempo sequence is
always the eccentric portion of the lift.

Other ways tempo can be written is with an “x” or “0”. In this case, an x or 0 indicates ZERO pause or slowing at that portion of the lift.

Time Under Tension 

A standard 3 x 8 is not the same as a set of 3 x 8 @ 3131.

Tempo adds difficulty and forces you to slow down and create more time under tension, so you can expect anything done with tempo to feel significantly harder than without.

If you’re ever short on weights (do not have access to enough weight)– adding tempo will be a huge dial mover for you.

If you’re not able to increase the weight you’re using for any reason (ability, injury, etc), adding in tempo work can be a great way to continue to load the tissues, and maintain/increase difficulty without adding weight.

Joints respond positively to slow eccentric loading

Every single joint in your body responds positively to loading. (Actually, every cell within your body responds positively to load) but joints especially LOVE slow, eccentric loading.

Let’s say you have some mild elbow discomfort. Slow, eccentric elbow movements can potentially help ease this discomfort over time. This is not medical advice, though 😉

Consider lowering the weights you’re using and/or keep a weight you have mastered for that movement the same, and add in tempo work.

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