The Importance Of Tempo Prescription
When you look at your workout, you’ll see the sub-heading “tempo” with a 4 number sequence, usually something similar to 3-0-1-0. But what do those numbers mean? Why is it important?
Think of your tempo as the “speed limit” for your workout. When you drive, the speed limit changes based on where you are on your drive. Your tempo dictates how fast to go during the different parts of the movement.
The first number describes the eccentric motion, which occurs when the muscle you are working stretches. For example, during a pulldown the eccentric is the way up; on a press, the eccentric is the lowering phase. Typically, the eccentric portion is when your body wants to move fast and the movement is more challenging to control, however, this is when we want to go slow and controlled. With the tempo 3-0-1-0, you are aiming for about 3 second eccentric. The eccentric portion is actually where the microtears in the muscle occur and where our muscles get stronger. A slow eccentric is also used to help people feel every part of the movement. If somebody is struggling to understand what a movement is supposed to feel like, slowing down the eccentric motion allows their muscles to slow down and help the body learn what the movement is supposed to feel like.
The second number tells you whether or not you have an eccentric pause. Pauses are used as a variation or to help train the muscle isometrically. An eccentric pause is exactly what it sounds like: it is a pause in the eccentric part of the movement. During a pulldown, this would be a pause while the bar is at the “up” position. Eccentric pauses can be used to make movements slightly harder because the stretch reflex goes away. Think of your muscles as springs; when you stretch a spring, it wants to snap back. Your muscles work the same way. When a muscle is stretched, it wants to snap back. By pausing for a second in the eccentric portion, our muscles lose that reflex.
The third number, typically a 1, dictates the speed of the concentric component of the exercise. The concentric component is when the target muscle shortens. On a pulldown, this is the pulling down motion; on a press, this is the pressing up motion. Typically, this is the “hard” part, when our body naturally wants to go a little slower, however, this is the part that should be faster (but always controlled). An eccentric pause will make the concentric movement harder because of the lost stretch reflex.
The fourth number is the concentric hold. Similar to the eccentric pause, this is a pause in the concentric position. Think of a 45 degree back extension hold. This movement is a concentric hold. The hamstrings and glutes are contracted and you are holding this position. A concentric hold is used as a variation to an exercise.