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Tempo As A Training Variable

January 19, 2011

By Gerard Bochese

As mentioned in an earlier blog, “Time Under Tension” (TUT) is essential for creating a desired training stimulus.  We talked about choosing a rep scheme to achieve TUT.  Reps, however, are only one part of the plan, the other part is tempo.  Tempo is used to vary rep speed to provide different training effects.  Tempo is usually expressed in a three-number formula.  For example, a 3:1:1 tempo means three seconds of eccentric contraction (the lowering of a weight or negative), one second pause, one second concentric contraction (lifting the weight). This allows for 4 seconds per rep.

If tempo is not taken into consideration we cannot necessarily achieve the TUT needed based on reps alone.  If a person is doing six reps at three seconds per rep their total TUT is 18 seconds.  If we increase their reps to eight but they do not maintain the same tempo but go to two seconds per rep their total TUT is now 16 seconds.  They are actually now being exposed to a shorter TUT, which will affect the desired training effect.

When walking around the gym I notice that most people have no regard for tempo in their training.  They perform exercises too quickly, which does not allow them to achieve certain training effects.  The speed of movement also creates momentum, which does not allow for desired muscle contraction and thus does not allow for desired strength gains.  Furthermore, reps that are done too fast usually are being done with bad form, which not only affects the training results but can often lead to injury.

So when looking for variety and results in your training program, it’s not just about changing the exercises.  Manipulating and changing the training variables such as tempo is critical to make positive changes.

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