9 Reasons Why I Like Tempo Lifts

By djpope

August 18, 2014

building strength, tempo

Kendrick-Farris-front-squatTempo lifts require a certain speed during your lifts.  Let’s use squats as a example.  A prescription of 31X0 for a back squat means:

  • 3 seconds to lower into the bottom of the squat
  • 1 second pause at the bottom of the lift
  • X means lifting as explosively as possible
  • 0 seconds pause at the top of the lift.

Obviously you can change the speed of the lifts for whatever goal you’re trying to accomplish.  For the sake of this article we’ll be discussing a slowed lowering (eccentric) and pausing at the bottom of the lift.

I used to hate tempo lifts.  I first tried these back when Charles Poliquin was espousing their use back in the late 90’s.  The reason for my hatred was simple, I just couldn’t lift as much weight during tempo lifts.  I thought they were dumb.  Anything that made me look weaker then I was, was immediately thrown in the trash.  Now after about 15 years of training I’ve come around to using it quite a bit more.  Here’s why in no particular order.

1) Technique

Slowing down the movement allows you to practice performing the lift correctly.  You build strength throughout the entire range of motion ultimately helping to promote exercise mastery.

2) Tendinopathy

james speckIn the realm of physical therapy, high tension eccentrics have been shown to be an effective treatment for many forms of tendinopathy.  Once we get to a certain age and have had pain for several months it is more likely to be a result of tendinopathy then generic tendinitis.  If we’re slowing down the eccentric phase of our lifts then we may also be improving the health of our tendons along the way.

3) Checking Our Ego at the Door

Tempo lifts require you to lower the weights you normally use for a given exercise.  This may be an ego check for many but learning to back off from extremely heavy work from time to time can help you make better progress and potentially decrease injury risk.  It also teaches not to be as concerned about weight on the bar and more concerned about technique.

4) Decreased Stretch Reflex Use

Stretch reflex uses the elastic properties of our muscles to lift weight and produce power.  It’s an important part of performance but if you’re relying purely on this phenomena for strength improvements then you might find yourself having difficulty at the bottom part of lifts (Dips, squats, etc.)

Tempo work allows you to build strength and confidence in the bottom portion of the lift.  Having difficulty in the bottom portion of a squat or a dip?  Try a few weeks of tempo work with a pause at the bottom of the lifts and I bet you’ll feel more confident down there.

5) Control

To borrow a quote from Gray Cook, tempo work allows you to “own the movement”.  What this means is that you’re using proper technique without compensation to complete a given movement.  This is excellent from an injury prevention standpoint but can also be very useful for performance.  Gymnastics skills come to mind here.  Having control of your body during the movement is a mandatory component for performance here.

6) Less Pain

Some people really aren’t able to tolerate high speed movement (Depending on the nature of their pain or injury).  Slowing down a given movement can often help to greatly reduce pain in some individuals.

7) Hypertrophy

quadsTime under tension refers to the total period of time that our muscles are under load throughout a movement.  From a muscle building perspective, increasing time under tension can be a valuable way to increase hypertrophy.  Having big ol’ muscles looks really cool and can also really help you move bigger weights.

8) Offseason Change of Stimulus

We all know the importance of periodization both to decrease injury risk and promote continued improvement throughout the course of the year.  Throwing in some tempo work in your offseason can be beneficial to change the stress on your body as well as promote continued improvements in strength.

9) Improving Flexibility

A little known benefit of a slowed eccentric through a full range of motion is improved length in a muscle.  Having trouble with flexibility in your olympic lifts?  Try some tempo RDLs with a slow eccentric and full stretch:

I’ve been using a 30X0 tempo for eating my cereal in the morning,

Dan Pope DPT, CSCS

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