Before you can understand tempo squats, how to do them and how to reap the benefits, you first need to know about tempo training. There are multiple variables that you can manipulate during training – the most common ones include repetitions, sets, intensity, and frequency. However, the one variable that’s easy to manipulate but frequently gets overlooked is tempo.
It refers to the speed at which a certain phase of a workout is performed. In its most basic form, tempo pertains to the period of time you subject a muscle to tension for one repetition. In a nutshell, tempo is all about repetition, speed and control. A slow tempo is used to achieve greater hypertrophy, whereas fast tempo is used to elicit a greater strength response.
What is Tempo Training?
Tempo training is divided into 4 phases of movement: eccentric contraction, pause (end ROM), concentric contraction, and pause (top ROM). If you take a look at a tempo prescription, the 4 phases are broken down into 4 numbers, with each number corresponding to a specific phase of movement.
In the sequence, the first number corresponds to the eccentric phase of the exercise. The second pertains to the pause or isometric phase; the third corresponds to the concentric phase of the exercise, and the last number refers to the time between reps. Here’s an example:
In this example, you are doing 4 sets of 3 with 75% of your max. Now for the number sequence in red – that means you’ll use 4 seconds to squat down, pause for 3 seconds at the bottom position, and use 2 seconds in between reps. You may have noticed that the third number (the concentric phase) is a zero. It means there’s no specific time for the concentric phase, so it must be done as fast as possible.
Now, Back to Tempo Squats…
Before you read on, you must have a clear idea what tempo squats are. Here’s an example: imagine yourself slowing down the eccentric (lowering) phase of your squat for 5 seconds, and then standing up (concentric phase) at normal speed. That’s tempo squatting! You time certain phases of the movement instead of doing it the traditional way.
Tempo Squat Benefits
In this section, we will discuss the benefits of tempo squats, although majority of the concepts can be applied to other tempo exercises, regardless of the movement. But before we proceed, here are a few tips to remember when performing tempo squats:
- Use a clock or metronome because our inner clocks tend to be much faster, particularly when we are under load.
- Stay tight throughout the squat. You can only use brute strength and can’t rely on momentum to bounce back up.
- Breathe, but only at the top. This applies unless you had a long pause at the bottom of the squat. Take a deep breath at the top and try to hold until you reach the top again.
1) Develop Positional Awareness
Tempo work tends to expose any imbalances that the full speed of movement may be hiding from you. If you slow down the movement, you will be able to feel it and see the precise positions that your body is passing through. Slowing down the movement gives your brain ample time to analyze it and then allow you to make the necessary adjustments if certain imbalances or deficiencies exist.
2) Develop Better Movement Patterns
This is related to the preceding section. Slowing down the movement provides for better self-analysis. If the deficiencies are corrected and the right succession of movements is turned into a habit, you’ll be able to achieve better movement patterns. Quality must be your first priority. Do not strive to go faster and harder at the expense of good form. Also, bear in mind that intensity comes only after you are able to consistently demonstrate the proper mechanics of a movement.
So, for newbies, there’s an opportunity to practice correct form and for the pros, tempo squats can be used to pinpoint problem areas and work on any weak links in technique. For instance, if you’re having difficulty in the bottom position of a front squat, you must spend more time in that position to help improve your technique and provide for greater improvements in the future.
3) Control Loading &Time Under Tension
This benefit is for those who are just starting out or those who are not fond of spending much time in the weights room. Tempo squats improve the ability to control loading while still making you work extremely hard. Initially, you may experience a tough time tapping into the psychological drive needed to move heavy weights. But over time, you’ll learn how to summon the will and because of the high time under tension needed during tempo work, the hypertrophic stimulus will kick in and you’ll develop bigger, more sculpted musculature.
4) Engage Small Muscle Groups
Tempo squats tend to fire up muscles that are not often used during normal squatting. Small muscles that stabilize joints are activated toward the bottom of your squat. This is a phase of the movement that most people miss after using their stretch reflex and bouncing out of the bottom.
In addition, your core muscles get a hefty workout too when you do tempo squats. Your ability to stabilize your midline for that period of time under tension is arguably better for your core than any number of sit-ups that you can do on any given day.
The extra time under tension will induce greater fatigue. This means you must use lighter weights as compared to similar amounts of repetitions without the tempo. Refrain from doing high rep sets because of the additional time it takes to complete a set. You must also run a specific tempo for a couple of weeks. You won’t get much out of your training if you constantly change the reps, sets weight, and tempo – unless you’re changing the tempo in a linear fashion.