Before I get into what tempo is good for, let’s talk about reading tempo.
“What does @3131 mean?”
Before I explain that, you need to understand the difference between the concentric and eccentric portion of a movement.
The eccentric portion of the movement is the “negative” part of any movement. During this portion of the movement, the muscles lengthen while producing force. During a squat, it’s when you lower into the squat, and during a push-up it’s where you lower your body to the ground.
The concentric portion of the movement, on the other hand, is when the muscle contracts and shortens. It’s essentially what we typically think of as the “working part” of the movement. During a squat, it’s where you’re working your butt off to get out of the hole and stand back up, and during a push-up it’s when you’re pushing yourself off the ground. During a pull-up, it’s, of course, when you’re pulling yourself up.
The two other pieces of the puzzle to understand tempo are the top and the bottom positions. Real simple, the bottom of a squat is when you’re, well, at the bottom of the squat, and the top position is when you’re fully standing up. The bottom of a pull-up is where you’re at a deadhang position with straight arms, and the top is when you have your chin over the bar.
OK, now that we have that sorted out…
Translating the Tempo
The first number of the tempo prescription is always the eccentric portion of the movement. The second number is the bottom position, the third number is the concentric portion of the movement, and the fourth is the top position.
Therefore @3131 means:
Eccentric: 3 (seconds) Bottom: 1 (second) Concentric: 3 (seconds) Top: 1 (second)
Consider a tempo of @3131 for a back squat—this means we want you to take 3 seconds to descend into a squat (eccentric). Then we want you to rest for 1 second at the bottom, followed by 3 seconds to stand up (concentric), and finally 1 second to pause at the top.
In a pull-up this tempo means that you take 3 seconds to slowly lower (eccentric), 1 second to hang out at the bottom in the deadhang hold position, 3 seconds to pull your chin to the bar (concentric), and then 1 second to hold with your chin over the bar.
Makes sense, right?
Ok, what if the tempo is @33×1?
The x basically means explode as fast as you can. So in a squat, it means 3 seconds to lower, 3 seconds to hold at the bottom, then explode back up as fast you’re able to with whatever load you’re using, and then take 1 second to pause at the top.
You may wonder why is it useful to train with tempo. I’m glad you asked—below are five reasons why.
5 Reasons to Train with Tempo
1. Improve Movement Patterns
Because tempo work usually forces you to slow things down, it allows you to focus on and reiterate perfect mechanics—be it a squat, a deadlift, or a push-up.
Slowing a movement down allows you to really feel each part of the movement, ultimately helping you move better and more consistently. On a similar note, tempo work is a great way to address and fix any positional weaknesses in any given movement.
2. Improve Strength
Tempo work means you’ll be spending more time under tension, which is a key component in building strength.
It also allows you to log a lot of volume as you’ll be working off much lower percentages of your max than you would be without a prescribed tempo, which goes a long way in building strength.
3. Experience Variety
Tempo work adds variety to your training by giving your body a new stimulus—another key to helping you continuously make improvements.
4. Protect and Preserve Your Nervous System
Tempo work allows you to get more bang for your buck. When you lift weight at percentages that are close to you maximum strength, you put a big strain on your nervous system. So tempo work allows you to work at lower percentages, but the more time under tension means you’ll still get the benefits of a heavier load but without frying your nervous system.
5. Promote Recovery
In short, because tempo training puts less strain on your nervous system, your recovery will be faster so you’ll be able to train more.
Try the below four exercises with tempo.
Tempo Training Exercise 1: Squat
5 sets of 5 reps at 50 percent of your 1RM
Tempo Training Exercise 2: Deadlift
5 sets of 5 reps at 50 percent of your 1 RM
Tempo Training Exercise 3: Push-Up or Inclined Push-Up
5 sets of 8-10 reps (push-ups or inclined push-ups)
Tempo Training Exercise 4: Pull-Up or Ring Row