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  • Writer's pictureTriston Patrick

Maximize your Time in the Gym & Keep Progressing with Tempo Training

woman tempo training dumbbell workout

Maximize your Time in the Gym & Keep Progressing with Tempo Training

Let’s face it, we don’t all have hours upon hours to spend in the gym training. For most people, juggling work and family life takes up the majority of our day and we are left with little time to work on our own wellness and fitness goals. This can be incredibly frustrating as we all have our goals and still want to pursue those goals without interfering with our commitments to our profession and loved ones. Inevitably this leaves us with two options: find a way to have more time to train (often in the early hours of the day or late at night, both options may not be the most viable from a recovery standpoint), or find a way to make better use of the time we already have in the gym.

Today I am going to speak on the latter. There are several ways to get more bang for our buck with the gym time we have, but one of these strategies that many people aren’t familiar with is the utilization of tempo training. Tempo training has been shown to help increase muscle mass, muscle endurance, strength, and nervous system recruitment. Furthermore, it is one of the few training methods scientifically shown to increase tendon strength.

So what exactly is tempo training and how does it work? Tempo training is simply specifying the rhythm or amount of time each section of a movement should take. It’s much easier to explain using an example. Let’s look at a squat. The movement begins standing, then we descend into the bottom position then stand again. That completes one repetition. When assigning tempo to a movement there are four sections. The top position, decent, bottom position, and ascent. So if we wanted to assign a tempo to our squats we could do something like a 3 second lowering, 1 second pause at the bottom, 1 second ascent, and a 1 second pause at the top. Written in tempo format that would look like so: 3111. It’s important to note when writing tempo an X defines no tempo at all and that phase of the movement should be done explosively.

Now that we understand how tempo works and is written how do we actually implement it? As a general rule I believe tempo is BEST (not exclusively) applied to the lowering and bottom portion of a movement. There are some sound evidence based reasons for this, but I’m not going to bore you with the physiology mumbo jumbo. If I were to write tempo work for most exercises I would start with this: 32X1. Each rep at this tempo would be defined as a 3 second lowering, 2 second pause in the bottom, explosive lifting of the weight, and a 1 second pause before the next rep. Controlling each repetition in this manner greatly increases the difficulty of a movement with less weight than would be traditionally used. For example, 3 sets of 5 back squats at a 32X1 tempo will be much more difficult than a traditional set of 5 reps. This allows us to use less weight and get a greater stimulus for our body than we would using standard sets. Tempo can be applied to weight training movements with barbells and dumbbells, or body weight movements. Push ups and pull ups at the tempo I mentioned above are surprisingly difficult and are a great stimulus with no need for weights.

Sounds great right? Well it is! It’s also VERY difficult, so when using tempo proceed on the side of caution when first starting out. Go lighter than you think you need to as tempo can humble us QUICKLY. Furthermore, due to the difficulty of tempo work reducing the total work done in each session starting out is a good idea. This is fantastic if saving time is the goal though! Instead of having to do 4-6 different exercises for the lower body simply doing 2-3 exercises for several sets done at a tempo will have you wobbling out of the gym in half the time! Progressing tempo training can be done just like any other resistance training progression. Weight can be progressed as time goes on or reps can be increased to ensure progressive overload is occurring.

There benefits of tempo training are numerous, but I would be remiss to make it out to be the pinnacle of all resistance training techniques. Tempo is NOT the best method for building maximal strength. Tempo methods will increase strength overtime as long as progressive overload is occurring, but this training doesn’t maximize the adaptations needed to get freaky strong. However, for general strength and hypertrophy training tempo is a great tool to have in our tool box.

Using tempo training for 4 to 6 weeks at a time every few months will lead to the best results. As with any stimulus we give the body it will lose its effectiveness as the body adapts and becomes accustomed to that particular stimulus.

Thanks for having me and I hope tempo training serves you all as well as it has me!

-Coach T!


triston patrick how to tempo training

Triston Patrick is an NCI certified Nutrition Coach and Crossfit L2 Trainer finishing his bachelor's degree in strength and conditioning from the United States Sports Academy. He owns Skylab Fitness located in Webster, Texas and has been coaching professionally since 2016. He specializes in integrating training and nutrition, as well as training program design and the physiology of training and nutrition.


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