Tempo (Resistance Training) Part 1
Updated: Sep 11, 2018
The tempo of an exercise is the speed at which it is performed. Tempo is split into four parts:
How quickly/slowly you lower the weight
If you pause once you’ve reached the bottom of the exercise
How quickly/slowly you raise the weight
If you pause before starting the next rep.
Tempo is basically just as way of describing how slow or quick a movement is and if there are any pauses at any point of the movement.
Why is the tempo important?
Varying the tempo will change the effect of an exercise and the adaptation it will cause. Some adaptations are elicited by performing quick movements, others require more controlled movements. It’s all about maximising the effectiveness of an exercise and the adaptation you’re seeking.
For example, try and jump as high as you can in slow motion… probably not getting a slam dunk. Those looking to become more explosive will therefore look to perform certain movements or parts of a movement as quickly as possible.
Others might want to focus purely on stimulating muscle growth. The time a muscle spends under tension has been shown to be important for building muscle; lowering yourself very slowly during an exercise is going to provide a lot of stimulus and tension for your muscles to cope with. This is very effective for creating the muscle damage required for muscle building.
Bodybuilders, therefore, may incorporate lifting weights slowly into their training program.
So, attention is paid to the tempo to make sure you are maximising the effectiveness of the exercise and the adaptation you’re seeking.
Stay in Control
Tempo shouldn’t get in the way of good technique or being in control of a movement. It’s possible to move very quickly whilst also being in control, just as it is also possible to move very slowly and be out of control!
Attention should always be paid to the quality of the movement and any tempo based training shouldn’t lead to poor movement. This is often the case when people try to lift or move explosively as speed can cover for instability.
If you’re unstable during an exercise, your system attempts to cover this up by getting through it as quickly as possible, almost not giving your body the time to be unstable.
Paying attention to the speed at which you are performing exercises will help you avoid injury. It will prevent you from flying through an exercise as fast as possible and ignoring your form.
The ‘bottom’ and ‘top’ of movements can be manipulated for specific reasons.
For example, pausing at the bottom of a heavy lift will make the rising portion of the lift more difficult. This is because the energy that is stored during the lowering portion of the movement disappears (it dissipates as heat).
Similarly, pausing or not pausing at the top of a movement before starting the next rep will either give you some rest or no rest.
Specific to your goal
When performing an exercise you should think about what you want to achieve from the exercise and adjust the tempo accordingly. The way you perform an exercise will determine the adaptation it creates.
Are you using an exercise to become more explosive? To build muscle? To increase strength? To improve stability? Tempo can be manipulated accordingly.
Check back for tempo part 2 which will explain how to understand tempo when it’s written in magazines, books and online programs.