One of the biggest riddles in reading a strength training program for fat loss, hypertrophy or overall strength goals is tempo. Those four numbers next to the exercise, that dictate how fast or slow you lift and lower the weight. Most people think that its not that important, but they couldn’t be more wrong.
Tempo is a critical aspect of programming that should never be ignored. Initially tempo, which Australian strength coach Ian King introduced was three digits, but it was super coach, the legendary Charles Poliquin who pioneered the use of four numerals as you see in the example below, which all of the personal trainers in our Sydney CBD and Chatswood gym’s are taught to use with their clients…
Tempo prescribed can be a critical factor in your development for fat loss, hypertrophy, power and strength gain. The deployment of slower tempos can be useful for increasing time under tension and improving mind muscle connection, thus eliciting a greater metabolic response. Whereas more explosive tempos are more useful for strength work as they recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers.
So to break it down simply:
- Each number represents one second in time.
- The first digit is the eccentric or lowering phase such as you would lower your body to the floor doing a chin up.
- The second number would indicate rest or a hold point at the bottom portion of an exercise such as a paused barbell bench press, where the bar rests just above your nipple line before pressing.
- Numeral three is how fast you contract, such as squeezing your hamstrings to bring the machine arm to your full range of motion in a hamstring curl. At times, you may see an ‘X’ instead of a number, all this means is that the movement is meant to be EXPLOSIVE.
- Lastly, the final digit indicates how long you pause at the top point of an exercises. Think about squeezing your Bicep at the peak of the movement, fully flexed, before lowering again.
When counting, I like to use the ‘thousand’ method. So say for example we’re working with a 3010 tempo. I would mentally countdown ‘three thousand-two thousand-one thousand’ as I lower and ‘one thousand’ again as I am going through the concentric part of the repetition. Just so I know that I am sticking to the correct timing and not rushing reps out. Check out the video below from Charles Poliquin where he explains it all in more detail.
On a final note, tempo can really make or break a training session. It is there for a reason and is necessary to control the type of stimulus that you are trying to elicit from the programming you are working with.
Yours in health,
The Clean Health Fitness Institute