Tempo is often underrated when it comes to a training program. It refers to the speed that you perform an exercise and will have a tremendous effect on what stimulus your muscles will recieve. If you are training to improve strength then your tempo should be different than if you were performing a higher repition set for muscle growth.
Tempo on a training program can look like the following:
3-0-1-0 2-0-1-1 4-0-x-0 2-2-1-0
There can be many variations of tempo that can be used but the important thing for you to understand is what each of these numbers mean.
The first number shown in tempo refers to what is called the ‘eccentric contraction’. This is the part of any exercise where you are lengthening or stretching the muscle. For example, the eccentric contraction on a Bench Press would be you lowering the bar to your chest. The number shows how many seconds you need to take before finishing this part of the repetition. In most cases the eccentric contraction will often be the biggest number shown in tempo. This is because the muscle is stronger when eccentrically contracting (lowering a weight) and requires a slower tempo to produce fatigue.
The second number shown indicates how long you should hold the muscle stretched. The stretched position on a Bench Press would be when you are holding the bar at your chest at a complete pause. The number shown in seconds tells you how long to hold that stretched, paused position. If the number is zero then that means that you do not have to completely pause at the bottom of a lift.
The third number shown is the speed of the ‘concentric contraction’ or ‘the squeeze’. This is the part of the exercise where you are shortening the working muscle. This number will often be smaller than the eccentric contraction to allow you to lift an adequate weight. If the concentric contraction shows an X, that means that your goal is to accelerate the weight quickly or ‘explode’ the weight. This will generally mean that your goal is to use a relatively heavy weight and generate as much power with that weight as possible.
The final number shown is how long you should hold the muscle shortened or squeezed. This is often emphasised in isolation exercises like a Triceps Pushdown where you can completely shorten a muscle.
To recap, tempo is the speed in which you lift a weight. A program may feature different tempo variations but the key is for you to understand how to read tempo. If you remember the below graphic when reading tempo you will never have a probably in understanding your program.
3: Eccentric Contraction (stretching the muscle/ lowering weight)
0: Eccentric Hold (holding the muscle stretched)
1: Concentric Contraction (contracting the muscle/ lifting the weight)
0: Concentric Contraction (holding the muscle squeezed/ contracted)