Adding tempo to even a normal workout can increase its intensity, imagine adding tempo to heavy compound movement like squat, It will be known as tempo Squats. Tempo squats have been my favorite way to crush my leg day without lifting heavy. I stay in control of the form and get rid of back involvement like Hatfield squats and still stimulate my quads muscle to achieve muscle hypertrophy.
Some of you must be thinking what are tempo squats? is it another variation like front squats, well yes but also no? Tempo simply means performing a repetition at a given pace like the lowering movement of the squat should take at least 3 to 5 seconds slower than your usual movement. Temp squats are used when an athlete or a lifter has hit a plateau in lifting and wants to get stronger or sometimes even learn to control the weight on the bar for all these problems a simple change in pace can get rid of them.
You may even never heard of the word tempo yet whenever you workout there is a high chance that subconsciously you’re using tempo. After all, you can’t perform reps without moving the weight at some sort of speed. Tempo training is a combination of mental discipline and physical strength, It means pushing your mind to push your body to max out the time stayed under tension.
What is Tempo Squats?
A tempo squat repetition is achieved when the athlete deliberately slows down during the lift. Most people often make the mistake of slowing down during the eccentric (Downward) portion of the lift and think that this is right however some coaches and athletes to increase the intensity of the workout will use tempo to do the concentric (Upward) part of the exercise.
Each portion of the lift doesn’t matter it can be concentric, eccentric, or isometric they are all assigned to a number, and those numbers tell the lifter the time to spend under a particular portion of the exercise. We will learn about these numbers later on in this article.
Tempo training is done to increase the time spent under tension compared to your standard lift. For example, you do 10 reps of 200lbs and every rep takes you about 2 seconds to do meaning for 10 reps the time spent under tension would be 20 seconds but in temp squats, if you take 3 seconds to descend and pause for 2 seconds and back to starting position so each rep will take you about 5 seconds and if you do 6 reps the time spent under tension would be 30 seconds.
According to a study conducted in 2012, by the journal of physiology, if the time spent under tension would be greater then the protein and muscle synthesis would also be greater even with the light weight. Men experienced in strength training were involved in strength training, one group performed leg presses to failure at 30% of 1RM with 1 second being the average rep time. While the other group performed leg presses at 30% of 1RM with 6 seconds of eccentric rep tempo. The group that spent more time under tension showed 3 times the increase in protein synthesis after 24 hours concluding much greater muscle-building potential when increasing the time under tension (1).
How to read the tempo?
In any workout routine tempo training is usually displayed with or exercise is guided with 3 to 4 numbers.
4-0-1 or 3-1-1-2, are some random numbers to give you an idea. If you have ever encountered these numbers in your training then you may have done tempo training.
The first number is used to guide the eccentric portion (descend) of the lift, In the squat, it would mean lowering of the weight.
The second number represents the bottom of the lift or the time you would spend in that position. For squats, it would mean pausing at the bottom.
The third number represents the return to the starting position meaning concentric lift (upward). In some workouts, you might see alphabets like “X” or “A” in place of the third number. The “X” means a return to the start of the lift as fast as possible or explode from the bottom. The “A” would mean assisted meaning your return or concentric part of the lift would be assisted.
The fourth number would represent the pause at the top or the rest between the reps. In the squat, it would mean the starting position of the exercise but in some exercises like pull-ups, It is holding the chin over the bar at the top. However not every exercise starts with the eccentric lift some exercises like deadlift, and sumo deadlift, start with the concentric movement so the reading of the tempo for those exercises would be different but that topic is for another day.
Now that you have a basic understanding of how tempo works so without further ado let’s get into the benefits of tempo squats.
Benefits of tempo Squats
- Improved lift movement and quality control
Every weight lifting guru has said that the ‘best way to increase strength while avoiding injury is achieved by maintaining proper movement throughout the exercise’. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or a professional athlete if you’re doing a lift without proper movement then it won’t be effective.
when you’re rushing into a compound movement exercise like squat you’re most likely to overlook several key points like proper tracking of the knee, maintaining that midline stability throughout the lift, and hinging of the hips. Overlooking this important key point and you will have a round back, close to no control, and unwanted stress on the knees, you will have a good morning squat as you try to lift up. All these signs mean injury. Tempo squats help you slow down through the lift, giving you enough time to not overlook the important parts so you lift with proper movement and that in turn, over a period of time will improve your strength.
2. Targeting weakness
Completing reps without the proper movement control and awareness would make a lifter hit a plateau sometimes this is due to the lingering weakness. When you try to do the front squats do you face the problem of maintaining the upright position and as you increase the weight the harder it gets. To get these problems in check you have you address your mobility, try to get your elbows up high, and check your ankle mobility but when doing that is not being of any help it is easy to lose hope.
Assuming you have no problem squatting so the chances are you have trouble maintaining the midline stability which can cause complications when getting in and out of the squat like at the bottom of the movement. When you do tempo squats you slow down the whole movement that isolating and allowing you to strengthen each portion of the lift. It is very hard to find your weakness and let alone fix it but tempo squats help you strengthen each portion of the lift which is likely to target your weakness too this way you will have the strength to get out of any plateau.
3. Improved mind-muscle connection
Tempo training helps you break down each of the core movements, It is the same with the temp squats. It forces your body and mind to focus on each portion/movement of the lift and if ever your mind-muscle connection is disturbed you will have enough time to establish the mind-muscle connection as you would be in the same position for quite some time.
Whenever you’re lifting it may be a normal weight or a heavyweight your mind is likely to go blank during the lift and it would solely focus on getting you out of the lift. Tempo training requires a higher level of mental and physical connection, you will have t challenge yourself by slowing down the movement by the counts to perform the reps accurately. Usually, in the middle of the set your mind will ask to you give up or speed up through the set, and when you resist that and push yourself through physical exhaustion and mental fear with each rep you boost your confidence as well as a mental connection with the muscles.
4. Progress your training
The normal way to progress is to add more weights or reps to a particular exercise in the workout this would work at the beginning but as you go you’re likely to hit a plateau. As you advance it gets harder and harder to add weights to your lifts or move the same weights for more reps that’s when tempo training comes in, a simple change in the speed of the lift would be an effective way to break out of the plateau and get new gainz.
Let’s say you’re stuck with squatting 265lbs for 4 sets of 3 reps for quite some time now. Try adding simple changes like staying at the bottom of the lift for 2 seconds or lowering into the squat position for 3 seconds, it may not be more weight than 265ibs or more reps but day by day your body is getting stronger as you go through muscle building tension.
5. Lower the risk of injury
Injury happens when the bad quality of reps meets the improper form so controlling your movement and improving the quality of reps can help you workout injury free. So when tempo lifting, let us say tempo squats, you force your mind to focus on your movement and technique, and at the same time, you’re developing neuromuscular adaption with the weight that is less stressful on your joints, muscles, and nervous system. In simple words, you will be able to achieve muscle hypertrophy while using light weights and have an Injury free workout session.
Getting bigger while lifting not-so-heavy weight is good for you and your body too. It can give your body that much-needed break that it deserves after max lifting. Tempo squats relieve the stress on the joints by recruiting extra muscle fiber during the lift.
How to tempo train?
If this is your first encounter with the method of tempo training then you should lower the weight from your 1RM in squats. Begin your exercise by lifting 50% to 60% of your 1RM, If you’re worried about lifting less weight then don’t be because if you want to execute the tempo squats perfectly with excellent form and without cheating yourself into counting the seconds faster. If you want to check all these boxes you will have to lower the weight. Before you get to the point that you know your weight range there would be a lot of trial and error in the way but that’s part of the process.
To maintain an absolute perfect form while doing tempo squats, you’ll notice that descending for 4 seconds and pausing at the bottom is a lot harder than it looks when in tempo squats your regular squats movement might happen out of the reflex so it is necessary to control them too. So to be on the safe side try with a lighter weight and then build your way up to heavy.
For muscle endurance – Perform tempo squats with time spent under tension ranging from 60 to 70 seconds for 1 set will give a good boost to your muscle endurance.
For Muscle – Go a little heavy, like 60 to 70% of your 1RM with tempo looking like these… 3-1-0-1 or 3-2-0-1. Depending upon how heavy you’re going try to rest for at least 2 to 3 minutes in between sets.
For Strength – For strength you’ll have to go heavier, like 80% of your 1RM also you’ll have to significantly quicken your tempo. For example 2-1-X-1. Time under tension would be less but still, it would be more than your normal squats.
Even if you train for one of these things it is impossible to build one without the other for example if you’re going to build muscle endurance you’re also likely to build strength.
Now you know all the benefits of tempo squats and how to do them?. Tempo squats are good to get an intense workout with low weights it is also a good way for athletes to get out of the plateau. Try incorporating tempo squats in your workout and you will see some progress.