Tempo training, understanding why we do it and how to read the prescription 30x1 Tempo


WHY? Tempo training is an important developmental tool – from beginners who simply want to learn to lift weights to Olympic caliber athletes of all disciplines. Below are 3 reasons for including a tempo within your lifts:

Improved Quality of Movement
Quality of movement should be your priority. Intensity comes only after one can consistently demonstrate the proper mechanics of a movement. Proper tempo prescriptions can help develop awareness and body control by giving an opportunity to “feel” which muscle groups are activating to keep them in proper positions.

Reduced Risk of Injury
Improving the quality of the movement helps to reduce the risk of injury. In addition to that, slowing down the tempo of lifts can ease the stress placed on joints and shift that additional stress to the muscles powering the lift. More stress on the muscles and less on the joints is a good thing. Muscles are far better at adapting to increased loads. Connective tissue typically takes longer to strengthen and adapt to increased volume and loads, so by slowing down the tempo you can give your connective tissue some rest while still strengthening the surrounding muscles.

Tempo prescriptions also naturally control intensity. Use the bench press as an example. If you excessively load the barbell you might be tempted to speed up the lowering phase and bounce the barbell off your chest but if you know that the prescription calls for a 3 second descent and a 2 second pause at the bottom, you’re not going to be tempted to load the bar with a heavy weight.

Improved Strength Gains
Proper tempo prescriptions can lead to improved strength gains. First, different tempo prescriptions permit greater training variety and stimulus. This means fewer plateaus and more adaptation.

Secondly, it allows us to fine tune weak links by overloading certain areas of a movement.  For example, most of us feel more comfortable with our second and third deadlift reps than the first? This is because we are probably using the benefit of either or both the elastic “bounce” of your stretch-shortening cycle (the transition of the muscles from eccentric or lowering the weight and concentric or lifting the weight) or your rubber plates hitting the hard floor. But, if the tempo prescription called for a slow descent and a longer pause at the bottom, you'll have to get stronger through your weak points.

Third, slowing down movements with tempo prescriptions can allow for greater amount of time under tension with less overall stress on our central nervous system (CNS). This is very important for us that do CrossFit, where we often push (or should be through intensity) to or past our limits with maximal effort lifts and workouts. By slowing down we are creating a way to continue training and improve our strength without overtaxing our CNS.

Lastly, isometric pauses at the top and/or bottom of lifts force the body to recruit more muscle fiber, and more muscle fiber recruitment (particularly more fast-twitch fibers) equals greater strength gains.

What Does 30x1 Mean?

Tempo prescriptions come in a series of four numbers representing the times in which it should take to complete four stages of a lift. In a workout, the tempo prescription will follow the assigned number of reps, such as:

Example: Front Squat x 2-3 reps @30x1 Tempo

The First Number — The first number refers to the lowering (eccentric) phase of the lift. Using the example above, the 3 represents the amount of time (in seconds) that it should take you to descend to the bottom of the squat. (The first number always refers to the lowering/eccentric phase, even if the movement begins with the ascending/concentric phase, such as in a pull-up.)

The Second Number — The second number refers to the amount of time spent in the bottom position of the lift – the point in which the lift transitions from lowering to ascending.  In our front squat example, the prescribed 0 means that the athlete should reach the bottom position and immediately begin their ascent. If the prescription was 32X0, it would be a pause for 2 seconds in the bottom position.

The Third Number — The third number refers to ascending (concentric) phase of the lift – the amount of time it takes you to get to the top of the lift.  The X signifies that the athlete should EXPLODE the weight up as quickly as possible. Even if this isn't very fast, it is the intent that counts – try to accelerate the weight as fast as you can.  If the third number is a 2, it should take 2 seconds to get the lift to the top regardless of whether they are capable of moving it faster.

The Fourth Number — The fourth number refers to how long you should pause at the top of the lift or movement. EXAMPLE — a weighted pull-up prescription of 20X2, it would be expected to hold his or her chin over the bar for two seconds before beginning to come down. Whereas the Front squat there would be a pause for two seconds at the top.

Hopefully this will be helpful to all athletes in the understanding of why we do Tempo Lifts and how to read the prescriptions correctly.

—Jamie Fuller