Tempo – Does it Matter?

Rep speed, also known as tempo, is a measure of the speed you move at throughout one repetition of an exercise.  

At Ultimate Performance we normally record a rep speed in our workout programs using a four-number code that was popularised by late Olympic strength coach Charles Poliquin.  

Based on this system, we can break every rep down into four distinct phases. Each number refers to the time taken (in seconds) to complete each phase of the rep.  

A split squat performed at 3-1-1-1 tempo, breaks down into:

  • 3 – eccentric – this phase is the part of the movement where the muscle lengthens as you lower the weight.  
  • 1 – isometric – this is the pause that separates the eccentric and concentric phase at the bottom of the rep. 
  • 1 – concentric – this is the part of the movement where the muscle shortens as you lift (push or pull) the weight.  
  • 1 – isometric – this is the pause at the top of the rep, which separates the concentric and eccentric phase.  

So why should we pay attention to tempo during our workouts? 

  • Whether you are a beginner or advanced lifter, one of the best ways to increase strength and avoid injury is proper movement mechanics.
  • Lifting to a tempo helps you slow down and complete your reps with more awareness and control.  
  • It strengthens the mind-muscle connection and helps you resist the temptation to blast through exercises to escape physical exhaustion – encouraging more confidence on the gym floor and a much tougher lifting mindset.  

Manipulating tempo can be a way of progressing your training without adding more weight to the bar or more reps/sets.

As you become more advanced in your workouts, it can be harder to add more weight to your lifts, so altering the speed at which you lift can be a simple but effective way to encourage progression. 

Finally, lifting with tempo forces you to focus on technique, exposing any weaknesses that you didn’t realise you have, reducing your risk of injury. 

Here are 4 exercises you can do at home, to test if applying a specific tempo to an exercise can maximise your workout.