Tempo Training

By Dave 0



A few of you may have noticed something funny going on since I got back from Sweden. Instead of picking a weight and just hammering it out for 3 or 5 reps I have now decided to throw a spanner in the works and make things a little more complex. Not only do I have the number of sets written on the workouts, now I have what looks like some sort of code just after.

Beforehand a squat workout may have looked like this –

  • Squat 3 x 5 (3mins rest)


And now it looks like this

  • Squat 3 x 4-6 @ 30×2; 3mins rest


First off where does it come from?


Like most things Strength and Conditioning, it comes from Ian King but later became popularised by Charles Poliquin. I decided to implement it in my own training and programming after following James Fitzgerald’s workouts and then attending his certs in Sweden last month.


What those 4 digits mean…


The first digit represents the seconds in the lowering phase (eccentric) of the lift. So, in the above example, the first digit is 3 and that means you should take 3 seconds lowering into the bottom of the squat.

The second digit represents the time spent at the bottom of the lift. In the above case its 0 seconds.

The third digit represents the lifting phase (concentric) of the lift – x meaning explode. It doesn’t matter if the speed isn’t explosive – as long as the intent is there to move the weight as fast as possible, this is all that matters. If the third digit was a 3, then the athlete would take 3 seconds to ascend from the bottom position.

The fourth digit represents the time spent (pause) at the top of the lift. So this would be standing at the top of the squat.

*NOTE: the first digit is ALWAYS the lowering phase of the lift.

For example, if you see;

  • Chin Up 3 x 6 @30×2

You would start with the explode – because you start at the bottom of the lift (the hang from the bar) then 2 seconds hold at the top then 3 seconds lowering and then 0 seconds at the bottom.

Counting is huge here and spotters can really help. It’s amazing how 5 seconds can become 1 second when the athlete is trying to control a heavy weight. Even spotters can help out – stay impartial if you are spotting but don’t be a jerk and count extra slow! The standard 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand or even the classic variation… 1 Mississippi 2 Mississippi works just as well! A metronome is another great tool for making sure you get the timing right and you can download a metronome app for your phone if you train alone.


Ok, now that we have the basics outlined, why is tempo training useful?


From a coaches point of view it is excellent because it increases control and ‘measurability’. Sometimes while working without a tempo, the athlete can ‘cheat’ or call on momentum to help out and this can make things very hard from an assessment point of view, when trying to measure true progress.

From an athlete’s point of view, tempo training does numerous things…

  • It creates a certain amount of stability and keeps the movement more consistent which in turn reduces the risk of injury. It also enforces an amount of awareness that will help improve body control / neuro-muscular efficiency.
  • It increases the time a muscle spends under tension and  this can be manipulated to increase strength gains or burn fat.
  • For more advanced athletes the tempo can be altered to work on a weak area within a lift (i.e. spend more time in the bottom of a squat)
  • It can load the muscles correctly and take and compensatory stress off the connective tissues.

It can be a much needed ego check for some athletes – more time under tension will mean a reduced load being moved and this sometimes is all that an athlete needs to regroup and then work past a plateau (or at least stop them from harming themselves).

Everyone can benefit from tempo training. All athletes should implement it into their training – but obviously, depending on the sport, tempo training may need to be used in the off season. If an athlete is prone to overuse injuries, tempo training can be ideal in helping build a solid base and strengthen connective tissues or any weak links.

Tempo training isn’t the answer but it is another valuable tool in helping athletes maintain improvements in performance when used in conjunction with other training modalities.


*See also:

Ian King’s Website

Charles Poliquin’s Website

James Fitzgerald’s (OPT’s) Website

Crossfit Invictus Blog



author: Dave