“The reason why we as coaches use tempo is to specifically control the athlete. Tempo is an important tool which can not only help the athlete learn the movement but also develop appropriate motor patterns and body control.” – James FitzGerald
Tempo, also known as time under tension, is a programming tool that allows the coach to specifically alter and target specific results in an athlete’s program. Coaches who master tempo can use it to work the athlete’s position, mechanics, movement progression, metabolism, control, and absolute strength. It is critical to your success as a coach that you understand how to use tempo.
Tempo is a way to control the rate at which an exercise is performed. It refers to how much time the muscle spends under tension in the isometric, eccentric, and concentric portions of the exercise.
Manipulating tempo can change the complete intent of the training program. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you understand this concept. Tempo is part of the foundation of how OPEX Coaches write programs.
(Coach’s Resource: Along with tempo OPEX Coaches use other principles to prioritize the intent of the exercise for each client. Learn our foundational program design principles with this course.)
Before we discuss how to write a tempo ‘prescription’ you need to understand the different types of muscle contractions.
An application of force to a muscle in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction. I.e: The bottom and top of a squat, as well as a plank.
A contraction where the muscle elongates while under tension due to opposing force being greater than the force generated by the muscle. I.e: The lowering portion of the squat.
A type of muscle contraction in which the muscle shortens while generating force greater than the external load. I.e: The standing portion of the squat.
Now that we understand the definitions of the various contractions. Let’s take a look at how to write a tempo. Tempo should always be written as a 4 digit prescription like the example below. @42X1
You may be scratching your head at what exactly that means. But let’s break it down.
Digit 1 Represents the Eccentric
Digit 2 Represents the Isometric Bottom
Digit 3 Represents the Concentric
Digit 4 Represents the Isometric Top
The way in which and the amount of time the tempo ‘prescription’ is written changes the intent of the piece. There are four main categories of intent that change depending on the tempo.
Tempo plays a critical role in the success and effectiveness of an individualized program. However, there is much more than just tempo that goes into designing an individualized program. Learn our method of Individual Design with our free course, The Coach's Toolkit.