What is tempo?

What is tempo?


What is ‘tempo’ and why should I use it? Doesn’t it slow me down? It stops me from using the heaviest weight possible, isn’t that what I need to get stronger?


These are common things I hear when tempo is prescribed in resistance training. We’ll keep the topic of discussion on resistance training for today and the why’s around using it to help you adapt (get stronger).


Improving strength is a fairly specific task, it is easily measured by performing the required task at the most difficult resistance possible. Or through similar endeavours by performing a specific task with resistance for multiple times, however this is known by our strength continuum as strength endurance.


It’s also important to note that we’re talking about movements that require a fixed resistance the entire time, where all contractions require tensions and can be manipulated. Such as goblet squats, you can create a tempo of @3311. Where as if you take a power snatch you’re unable to prescribe a tempo for the movement. You may be able to prescribe tempo to the reps but not the muscular contractions involved in the movement, as it’s a dynamic movement that requires strength and speed.


So now we know exactly the type of training where we can apply tempo, let’s get to thick of it and why we would use tempo in our resistance training.


Tempo is fantastic for recruiting more motor units. This is essentially creating a stronger brain to muscle connection. The more motor units we can recruit within a muscle, the more force we can produce from it.


Performing movements with less control (less tempo) is a great way to express your absolute maximum for the given task, but not so good for training our ability to recruit more motor units within a muscle. Recruiting more motor units not only allows us to produce more force, but also gives us improved motor control, which is our ability to move with accuracy. Improved motor control will allow us to be in specific positions whilst using less energy, making the movement more efficient.


Another great reason we manipulate movements with tempo is because it can allow us to maintain a higher level of intensity for a prolonged period of training. Training with little to no tempo in resistance training is very taxing for the brain and muscles and can easily lead to overuse injuries if not designed or altered diligently for the individual. Maintaining a level of intensity during training is important for stimulation and the release of dopamine, an excitatory neurotransmitter released from the brain that makes us feel good. Training with a tempo is less stressful and therefore allows us to maintain a feeling of high intensity without as easily overdoing it.


It’s well known to coaches within the world of strength that you cannot and should not attempt to lift your maximum all the time. It’s also well known that it isn’t needed to make progress within your strength endeavours. There are many factors to consider when trying to improve strength and one of them certainly is effort. But the effort is relative to the task at hand. You can make tonnes of progress in strength with the utilisation of tempo in your movements that can lead to you becoming stronger than ever.


Slowing movements down is very beneficial for tendon strength. The connection from muscle to bone is of such high density that it gets very little circulation of blood. Constantly moving at high speeds with resistance, especially in and out of end ranges of motion, can quickly take its toll on joints. Tendons take a lot longer to recover than muscles do so make sure to give them some TLC with slower and more focused movements every now and then.


If you’re unsure of how tempo should be used in your training or you’re looking for guidance to get stronger and reach your goals in the gym then get in contact with us here at Lift Off. We’re based in Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire and always looking to help others achieve their fitness goals through exciting and innovative group classes where the focus is on enjoying your fitness and making progress.

Coach Mike

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