Why Tempo Variations Are A Useful Training Modality

Regardless of what type of training goals I’m chasing be it general strength, raw power, strict hypertrophy I find the one exercise variation I almost never rotate out of programs are tempos.

Tempo variations simply involve any exercise variation that manipulates how long a rep needs to be performed for. You may need to hold a 3 count eccentric as you lower the weight, punish yourself with a strict 5 count concentric on the way up, or any combination of the two you could possibly think of.

Tempos have some of the best universal usefulness you can find when it comes to train and here’s why.

1. Technique/Form Correction

On a base level, tempos are great for learning.

Novices typically “dive bomb” reps regardless of the exercise, using very little control which can cause problems in their progression later down the line.

Not only that but forcing a lifter to move slowly gives them time to think about what they are actually doing. A lot of new lifters are suffering from information overload from their coach trying to remember 7 different cues at once, and a tempo variation can give them just that much more time to think about what they need to do to perform the rep correctly.

2. Training Around Injuries

Probably my favorite thing about tempo variations is their usefulness for training an athlete through an injury.

As an example someone may have knee pain and think they can’t squat anymore, but all they’ve been trying is their usual 75-90% 1RM training.

Take some load off the bar, have them move slowly through the movement and suddenly they don’t feel that same pain anymore. This can give the lifter just enough confidence to continue lifting and slowly rebuild themselves over time, as opposed to giving up on a movement altogether and never doing it again.

3. Hypertrophy Benefits

While not at the top of the hypertrophy hierarchy, controlling eccentrics and increasing the amount of time a muscle is under tension is one of the variables used to stimulate hypertrophy adaptations in a muscle. Tempos can be a great way to achieve exactly that.

This is one of the reasons you will see bodybuilders not worrying so much about just how much weight they have on the bar, but through what range of motion they are able to move that weight, the technique they are able to maintain, and the speed at which they are lifting.

This is a direct contrast to power based athletes who are often looking to move the weight as fast as is possible.

4. Load Management Benefits

Finally, tempos are fantastic for strength based athletes looking to add some extra training frequency to their program.

3 full on max effort squat days may be too much for a lifter to recover from from week to week, but what if the variations where adjusted so the load changed on each of those training days.

Tempos can be used to accomplish that. You simply won’t be able to lift as much weight if you are doing a 3-0-3 tempo squat vs. your normal squat making tempos a great method to manage the overall load of your training, and keep you from running into an over training related injuries.

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.