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Understanding Exercise Tempo: How to Program for Optimal Results


Exercise tempo is a crucial yet often overlooked aspect of resistance training programs. It refers to the speed at which each phase of an exercise is performed and is represented by a series of four numbers.

Mastering the use of exercise tempo can significantly impact training outcomes, helping individuals achieve their fitness goals more efficiently. In this blog, we will delve into the concept of exercise tempo, its importance, and how to program with tempo to optimize results.

What is Exercise Tempo?

Exercise tempo is the rate at which different phases of an exercise are executed. It is typically described using four numbers, each representing a specific phase of the movement:

Eccentric Phase: The muscle lengthening with gravity. It is the lowering or lengthening phase of the exercise.

Isometric Phase: The end of the range of motion where the muscle remains in a static contraction.

Concentric Phase: The muscle shortening against gravity. It is the lifting or shortening phase of the exercise.

Isometric Phase: The top position where the muscle is held in a static contraction.

These four numbers are written in sequence to define the tempo. For example, a common tempo notation is “4-1-X-2,” where each number represents the seconds spent in the corresponding phase of the movement.

The Importance of Exercise Tempo

Exercise tempo plays a vital role in resistance training programs for several reasons:

Muscle Engagement: Controlling the tempo helps ensure that the targeted muscles are properly engaged throughout the entire movement, maximizing the effectiveness of the exercise.

Time Under Tension (TUT): Tempo determines the time under tension for each repetition, influencing the metabolic and muscular responses. Varying TUT can lead to different training outcomes, such as hypertrophy or strength gains.

Movement Control: Utilizing specific tempos can help individuals develop better motor control and coordination, enhancing exercise performance, building balanced strength, and reducing the risk of injury.

Program Customization: Tailoring the tempo to an individual’s training age and fitness level ensures that the program aligns with their specific goals and capabilities.

How to Program with Exercise Tempo

Now that we understand the significance of exercise tempo, let’s explore how to incorporate it into resistance training programs:

Determine Training Goals: Before selecting the appropriate tempo, identify the individual’s training goals. Whether it’s building strength, increasing muscle size, improving motor control, or enhancing power, the tempo can be adjusted to align with the desired outcome. Download this free guide to learn how to personalize tempo to different training goals.

Consider Training Age: Take into account the individual’s training age, which reflects their experience and adaptability to training stress. Beginners may benefit from longer tempos to focus on motor control, while advanced individuals might use explosive tempos for power development.

Control Time Under Tension: Manipulate the tempo to control the time under tension for each exercise. Longer tempos with slower eccentric and concentric phases increase TUT, promoting hypertrophy and muscular endurance. For beginners, TUT prescriptions may be in the 30 to 90-second range, for intermediates in the 10 to 60-second range, and for advanced individuals, often in the 0 to 30-second range. 

Use Intent-Based Letters Where Appropriate: The tempo prescription may also include letters to explain the intent of the activity. An “X” in the concentric tempo location means the intent is to move the load as fast as possible in the concentric range of motion, leading to greater muscle recruitment. An “A” stands for assistance and is used to overload the eccentric part of the movement when an individual cannot perform the concentric movement.


Exercise tempo is a valuable tool in resistance training program design. By understanding its significance and learning to program with tempo effectively, fitness enthusiasts and coaches can unlock the full potential of their workouts. By customizing tempos to align with individual goals, training age, and fitness level, individuals can optimize their progress and achieve the desired results in their fitness journey.

Remember, exercise tempo is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Experiment with different tempos, monitor the response, and adjust as needed to design a program that suits your unique needs and aspirations. Happy training!

For more tempo program design examples, be sure to download our free guide, Using Tempo For Better Strength Programs. In this guide we cover how to apply tempo to five different training goals: absolute strength, motor control, hypertrophy, power, and muscle endurance.

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