If you’ve ever seen a sequence of numbers such as 3-1-1-0 pop up in a program and are wondering what that means for the bench press set you’re about to complete – let us explain the concept of tempo training.
Whether you’re an experienced lifter looking to improve your max strength, a newbie to weight training that wants to build more muscular endurance, or an athlete at any level, prescribing tempo to exercises can be extremely beneficial.
What is Tempo Training?
Tempo is a way to control the rate at which an exercise is performed. It refers to how much time the muscle spends under tension in the isometric, eccentric, and concentric portions of the exercise.
Tempo is typically shown as a 3- or 4-digit number, with each number referring to the speed at which part of the exercise should be performed.
What Are The Numbers?
A tempo of 3-1-1-0 means 3 seconds, 1 second, 1 second, 0 seconds.
Let’s use the bench press as an example of how this would look in a practical sense:
First Number – the 3 in this sequence represents the eccentric phase of the exercise. For a bench press, the eccentric portion is lowering the barbell to your chest.
Second Number – this refers to the time, if any, to pause between the eccentric and concentric portions of the exercise. For a bench press, this would mean pausing with the weight at chest level for 1 second.
Third Number – this number denotes the time for the concentric phase of the exercise. Using our bench press example, this would look like exploding the barbell back to the starting position in 1 second.
Fourth Number – the fourth number is the time, if any, to pause between the concentric and eccentric portions of the exercise. As our number in this sequence is 0, after pressing the barbell back up to the starting position, you would move straight back into the eccentric portion of lowering the bar down again, without a pause.
Tempo numbers are always written in the same order, however not every exercise starts with an eccentric movement. For exercises that start with the concentric phase (e.g. deadlifts, pull-ups, bicep curls), you’ll start at the third number instead of the first number.
For example, 3-1-3-1 tempo for a pull up would look like:
- 3 seconds to slowly lower (eccentric)
- 1 second to hang out at the bottom in the dead hang hold position
- 3 seconds to pull your chin to the bar (concentric)
- 1 second to hold with your chin over the bar
Reasons To Train With Tempo
- Improve Movement Patterns – Because tempo work usually forces you to slow things down, it allows you to focus on getting your technique bang on. Slowing a movement down allows you to really feel each part of the movement, ultimately helping you move better and more consistently.
- Improve Strength – Tempo work means you’ll be spending more time under tension, which is a key component in building strength.
- Experience Variety – Tempo work adds variety to your training by giving your body a new stimulus – this allows you to continuously make improvements and avoid plateaus.
- Reduced Injury Risk – Lifting with a tempo forces you to focus on technique while also developing neuromuscular adaptations with safer weights that are less stressful on your joints, muscles, and central nervous system.
- Recover Quicker – Because tempo training puts less strain on your nervous system, you’ll be able to recover faster and be ready for your next session sooner.
How To Tempo Train
The best tempo for resistance exercises will depend on a number of factors, including level of experience, training goals and the individual exercise being performed.
As a general guide, here are some examples of tempo’s for different training goals:
- Go with a weight that seems super light at first
- 40-65% of your 1RM for tempos like 10-0-4-1, 7-4-0-2, and 6-2-2-2.
- Between 60-80% of your 1RM for tempos like 3-2-0-1, 3-1-0-1, or 4-1-0-1.
- Use this tempo when you’re looking to build max strength
- 85% of your 1RM or higher, and significantly quicken the tempo to something like 2-1-X-1. (X represents an explosive rep).