Some of the most grueling work that can be done in the gym is squatting with tempo, which is done to control how fast or slow a squat is performed. Squatting out sets of 10 is hard enough, but we can make it even more challenging by controlling the pace of the exercise. Usually, tempo exercises aim to slow down the eccentric/lowering phase of a movement. Try this sometime: load 50% of your back squat on the bar and squat it for 10 reps (not for time). You’ll probably finish the set in 30 or 40 seconds. After 3-4 minutes of rest, do another 10 back squats, but do them to a 4121 tempo (see below for number explanation). Use the clock on the wall to keep your pace honest. Even though the weight and reps are the same, you will find that the tempo set is more difficult.
The numbers (4121 above) for tempo exercises indicate how many seconds you spend doing each phase of the lift. The first number pertains to the eccentric loading phase. In a squat, this is when you are riding the weight down to the bottom. For the example above, that suggests you spend 4 seconds going down in your squat.
The second number is the time spent at end range of motion of the eccentric phase. Unless your program calls for pause squats, this is almost always a 0 or 1. For the squat set above, pause for 1 second in the bottom before standing.
The third number is the concentric phase of the lift. Examples include, standing up in a Squat, pulling from the floor in a Clean, or pushing off the chest in a Bench Press. Most of the time, this number will be an X (explode) unless the intent of the movement is purely for hypertrophy work like in the example above.
The last number indicates the time spent at end range of contraction. Usually, this too is a 1 or 0 to mitigate resting time during the set.
Next week, I’ll get into a few of the reasons behind using tempo work, and how you could benefit from this type of training. For now, understand that slowing an accessory exercise down almost always yields better results.