Understanding Exercise Tempo 

the rack front door

Tempo refers to the speed at which you perform an exercise and is represented by a sequence of four numbers written 5010 or 5-0-1-0. 

The first number is always going to be the eccentric portion, or lowering phase, of an exercise. This is important to understand because the eccentric can be the way down or the way up, depending on the exercise. For example, the eccentric phase of a squat is lowering into the hole. The eccentric phase of a lat pulldown, however, happens as you raise the weight to the top.

Slow eccentrics can be used for people with a young training age, hypertrophy training, and strength gains. 

The second number is the bottom of your exercise such as the bottom of a squat, the lengthened position of a chin-up, the bottom of a bench press, and lengthened position of a deadlift. If this number is 0, do not pause here, and finish the rep as you normally would. If you do see a number here, that is your pause in the hole. 

A pause at the bottom (or lengthened position) of an exercise places the muscles under tension for a longer period. You can also use pauses to overcome specific weaknesses or to prevent bouncing out of the hole.

The third number is the concentric (contraction) part of the exercise. Think rising out of a squat, pulling your lat pulldown or chin up. You can use slow concentric training for a more significant time under tension, creating a mind-to-muscle connection or overcoming a weakness. Sometimes this number is represented as an X meaning the concentric should be as explosive and powerful as possible. 

Finally, the last number represents how much time you should spend at the “top” of an exercise (the contracted position.) For example, pausing at the top of a back extension or row would make more sense than pausing at the top of a squat or bench press for a greater time under tension. 

As you can see, tempo has a huge impact on how an exercise is performed and the desired outcome of exercise selection. Be sure you’re mindful of the tempo prescribed as you execute your workouts to maximize your results.

Lauren Shull

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