What Are the Benefits of Tempo Training?

You’ll notice that during “Dark Matter” we have tempo squats as an option on our Performance track. Tempo training is an excellent tool that utilizes the benefits of time under tension and holding positioning in order to build both strength and muscle. It removes momentum from lifts that otherwise benefit from it and ensure that you’re tapping into as much motor unit recruitment as possible in order to complete the lift.

Increased motor unit recruitment = increased strength.

Let’s take the following example and look at each number in the prescription to understand how to perform it.

4 x 3131 Goblet Squat

4 – The very first number is simply the amount of repetitions performed in the set. 

3 – The first number in the four-number sequence indicates the time spent on the eccentric, or lowering of the movement. So, the lifter would apply a focused three second count to their descent.

1 – The second number indicates time spent at bottom, or pause. In this case, a one second pause. 

3 – The third number indicates time spent on the concentric, or standing up. A three second count.

1 – You guessed it. The fourth number is the time spent at the top prior to starting the next rep.

So, three second descent. One second pause at bottom. Two second ascent. One second pause at top. For four reps.


  • Eccentric Strength – Working the negative of a movement in a controlled manner is very beneficial for strength gains, hypertrophy, and injury prevention. It also makes you sore as hell, so prescribe accordingly.
  • Weak Links – Often, our stronger muscles overpower the weaker muscles in movement. This is particularly the case for quad-dominant folks who have trouble activating their glutes and hamstrings. A slow focus of the movement at reduced load allows the weaker links to get to work and not be passed over by speed.
  • Bracing – Pretty much impossible to move slow and not brace. This reinforces good habits with veterans and teaches proper abdominal bracing in new athletes.
  • Technique – The mere act of moving slower reduces error rate. There’s high correlation between speed of movement and technique error.
  • Working Through Sticking Points – Most of us stick right after the eccentric, or the first few inches of the concentric. By pausing and starting from dead stop, we help increase rate of motor unit recruitment to “get us out of the hole”.


Understand that tempo work is very taxing. The time under tension for a set of three reps at 3131 pace 24 seconds. That’s a lot of time to be under load or controlling your body weight in a dynamic movement, so less tends to be more with tempo work.

Here are some ways you can tweak it to hit specific goals.

X – If there is an X in the equation, say for example, “31×1”, it means you explode up on the concentric, so no pause. This saves some time under tension and focuses on building eccentric strength.

0 – You don’t have to pause at the bottom. Think about the goal of the athlete and what you are asking them for this particular work piece.

Load is secondary and technique is everything. A common mistake is to go heavier than you’re able to, and you end up rushing the counts and all of the sudden you are in this middle ground of not that much weight and not much of a tempo. Yuck.

Slow down, do it right.