Athletes and gym rats are always contacting me for the latest exercise variation and the latest workout that I have come up with.  Here's the catch, you only neeed to make some minor adjustments to the training plan you are all already on.  You can keep the exercises the same but you can change your rep load, the number of sets performed per exercise, the rest time between sets, the rest time between reps or the tempo of each rep.  Any one of these variable changes will drive the body to adapt to it thus making the same workout different.

Of all the training variables I feel varying the tempo provides the greatest physiological adaptations in the shortest period of time.  Using tempo's that meet training goals will not only make you stronger, but tempo training can also be used to lose fat, gain muscle, rehabilitate injuries, and improve sport performance.  A number of new research studies provides evidence that varying tempo is one of the best tools for achieving greater strength, size, and body composition.

If you are new to tempo methods this how you prescribe it during your workout sessions.  Lets use the back squat exercise as an example.  The typical workout consists of 4 sets of 8 reps in a training session.  If you want to vary the tempo it would look like this: back squat 81X1 for 4 sets of 8 reps.

  • The first number is the eccentric contraction (lowering of the weight) in the back squat.  As a rule of thumb this is when the muscle is being placed under stretch.  8 second count lowering into the bottom of the the back squat position.
  • The second number is the time of the pause in the stretched position.  The pause (an isometric contraction) is between the lowering eccentric phase and the lifting or concentric phase.  This would be the pause at the bottom of the squatting position.  The 1 here represents a one second pause at the bottom of the back squat position.
  • The third number would be the time it takes to get from the bottom of the back squat position back to the top or starting position of the squat.  X signifies move as fast as possible lifting the weigh out of the bottom position.
  • The fourth and final number is the pause at the top position.  This would be one second pause in the starting position before lowering the weight and beginning next rep.

As you can see the number sequence combinations could be endless but there is a definitive sequence for various physiological needs.  If relative strength is the goal choose reps at a given tempo below 18 seconds per set.  2 reps at 90% of your max with a tempo of 32X0 produces a time under tension (TUT) of 12 seconds for the set.  For muscle hypertrophy a TUT of 42 seconds is optimal.  Utilizing 4-6 reps at 70-80% of your max with a tempo of 4120 is standard.  To burn fat more efficiently in each set train 6-8 reps at a 4010 tempo at 70% of your max.  Finally, slow training that uses tempos longer than 4 seconds for both phases of the lift are best for rehabilitation exercises.  8-10 reps at a tempo of 4041 with light loads or body weight would be standard for rehabilitation.

You can see from this article that you can keep and modify any workout using tempo training.  By simple changing the tempo on a few exercises, it is enough to for favorable adaptations in muscle strength, muscle size, fat loss, and injury rehabilitation.



Bentley, J., Amonette, W., et al. Effect of Differential Lifting Cadences on Ground Reaction Forces During the Squat Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010. 24 (5), 1414-1420

Sakamoto, A. Sinclair, P., et al Muscle Activation under Varying Lifting Speeds in Bench Press. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2012. 112, 1015-1025

Pryor, R. Sforza, G., King, D. Optimizing Power Output by Varying Repetition Tempo. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. September 2011. 25(110), 3029-3034