What is Tempo? & Why’s it so important?

If your workout plan doesn’t place any focus on the tempo for the exercises you’re doing, or if you simply skip over that bit & choose not to follow the recommended tempo, you are making a big mistake & potentially missing out on valuable progress in the gym. 

So what is Tempo? 

Tempo refers to the speed at which you should perform an individual rep of an exercise. It breaks down each part of the exercise into it’s 4 phases. 

Phase 1- The eccentric (lowering)

Phase 2- The time spent in the lengthened position

Phase 3- The concentric (lifting)

Phase 4- The time spent in the shortened position 

If we use the example of a squat. For this exercise:

The squatting down (lowering) portion of the rep would be the eccentric

The point at the bottom of the squat, after you’ve lowered, but before you stand up, would be the time spent in the lengthened position (as this is where the glutes & quadricep muscles are at their most stretched)

The standing up portion of the rep would be the concentric

& any time spent at the top fully stood up, would be time spent in the shortened position (as this is where the glutes & quadricep muscles are at their shortest & most easily ’squeezed’)

How is Tempo written? 

Tempo is written as 4 numbers. Representing seconds of time & with each number relating to the individual phase of the rep. 

First number= seconds taken to perform the eccentric 

Second number= seconds spent paused in the lengthened

Third number= seconds taken to perform the concentric 

Fourth number= seconds spent paused in the shortened 

So if your squat exercise had a tempo of 3110 it would mean 

3: Take 3 seconds to lower into the bottom of the squat 

1: Pause for 1 second in the bottom position where the muscles are stretched

1: Take 1 second to stand up from the squat 

0: Do not pause in the top position where the muscles are most shortened 

Give it a quick try! 

Is Tempo really that important? 

Tempo can appear rather insignificant at first glance. 

Surely the more important thing is how much weight you lift & how many reps you do? & as long as that is going up over time, you’ll make progress right? 

Not necessarily. 

Let’s say on week 1 you perform a squat with 20kg of weight. Without really meaning to, you adopt a 3110 tempo. 

Over time, you keep adding weight to the bar but without realising as you add more weight, you change your tempo. 

You get to week 6 & you’re now using 40kg of weight but in terms of tempo, you uncontrollably drop into the bottom of the squat & spend 3 seconds at the top regaining your strength & psyching yourself up before descending into the next rep. 

Your new tempo is more like 1013 which will have a completely different effect on the body & how it will adapt than your original 3110. 

All reps are not equal. 

How long you spend performing an exercise, as well as how long you spend in each phase of the rep matters & in training terms, means certain reps are worth more than others. 

Should Tempo be different for different exercises? 

In a lot of cases yes. 

Every exercise is different in which part of it is hardest.

A squat is most difficult at the bottom- or in the lengthened position. But a leg extension is most difficult at the top- in the shortened position. 

A bench press is most difficult at the bottom- or lengthened position. But a cable fly (when positioned to the sides) is most difficult at the top- shortened position. 

So when choosing tempo, the type of exercise should be considered. 

There’s little point spending lots of time in the phase of the exercise that’s naturally the easiest. 

Should Tempo be different for different goals? 

In a lot of cases yes. 

Tempo’s that focus more on the eccentric phase or pauses in the lengthened position will cause more damage to the muscle (& when I say damage, in this context this could be a positive thing). So for someone aiming to add muscle mass, they might deliberately choose to emphasise or overload this portion of the rep. 

Tempo’s that focus more on pauses in the shortened position will be more metabolically taxing & so will help burn more energy & can be suited more to weight loss goals. They also result in less chance of over stretching & therefore injury risk, particularly for beginners, will be lower. 

Hopefully now you’re able to appreciate the important role Tempo plays in your workouts & if you need some help improving your current exercise plan or would like some help creating a new one, with more of a focus on tempo make sure to check out the 1-off Exercise Plan package I offer. 


April 28, 2021

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