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Tempo Training: The Secret Technique For Coaches?

What is Tempo Training?

Tempo training is the deliberate manipulation of workout speed during resistance and cardiovascular exercise. In weight training, it means controlling the speed of each phase in a rep: the eccentric, concentric, and isometric (pause). For cardio, it means controlling the speed and strategically altering the intensity to challenge the cardiovascular system.

Tempo Training Examples

Weight Training

Assign a tempo for each portion of the rep and monitor your client’s training to ensure they adhere to it. For instance, you could assign a tempo of 3-2-2-1: a 3-second lowering phase, a 2-second pause at the bottom, a 2-second lifting phase, and a 1-second pause before the next rep.


A good way to implement tempo runs for your athletes is to determine a sustainable pace and distance for a 30-minute run. For a reasonably fit person, that will be around five kilometers (5K; 3.1 miles).

So, take the person’s pace per kilometer (what they can run in ideal conditions when well rested) and add 30 seconds. If someone can run a 5:30 kilometer in ideal conditions, shoot for 6 minutes/km during tempo runs.

From there, the simplest option is to sustain the same moderate intensity throughout. When adjusted correctly, that should be just around the person’s anaerobic threshold.

Benefits of Tempo Training

1. Improved Technique

Providing strict guidelines for tempo is a fantastic way to improve technique, particularly in strength training. For example, if a client dive bombs their squat, instructing a controlled 2-3-second eccentric is a great way to resolve the issue.

Additionally, by controlling the tempo, trainees have more time to pay attention to crucial aspects of proper form––body positioning, bracing, proper knee tracking (on movements where it matters), keeping the spine neutral, and so on.

2. Fewer Reps = Greater Stimulus

A controlled tempo means more time under tension on each rep. While that typically results in doing fewer reps before reaching the target RPE (or simply getting close to failure), the stimulus is still productive and beneficial for growth and development. 

This can be particularly beneficial when trying to limit joint stress, such as when working with someone who has previously been injured. Limiting the number of reps without increasing the weight is a good way to limit joint and connective tissue stress.

3. Addressing Weak Points

Rushing through reps makes it easier to develop compensatory movement patterns and find ways to overcome resistance. However, this often leads to weak points that become increasingly apparent as the trainee starts lifting more weight.

For example, someone used to dive-bombing their squat and overly relying on the stretch reflex wouldn’t train the quads well through the entire range of motion. Specifically, the quads might be weaker off the bottom position because they’ve never been challenged through that part of the ROM.

Controlling the eccentric and introducing a small pause at the bottom directly addresses the weak point. In this case, this would be particularly beneficial for someone aspiring to compete in powerlifting.

4. An Effective Way to Provide an Overload

Lifting more weight and doing more reps are often go-to strategies for coaches to provide an overload. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but progressing in these ways can sometimes be challenging, especially for more advanced lifters.

Introducing strict tempo guidelines is another effective way to provide an overload without changing anything else about the client’s training. 

For example:

5×5 w/ 120 kilograms at self-selected tempo ⇒ 5×5 w/ 120 kilograms at a tempo of 3-2-2-1

Programming Tempo Training For Clients

1. Prescribing the Correct Weight

Including tempo guidelines almost always means trainees must reduce the weight or do fewer reps to compensate for the extra challenge. 

A good starting point is to reduce the weight they lift by 20-25% and monitor technique.

2. Experiment With the Tempo

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to training tempo, so experiment with clients and adjust accordingly. Here are some quick recommendations:

3. Listen to Your Athletes

Collecting feedback from your athletes is a crucial aspect of coaching. It provides valuable insight, helps you determine the effectiveness of the prescribed training plans, and gives you ideas for potential adjustments.

Our strength coaching platform allows you to communicate with all your athletes in one place through the built-in chat. That way, you can easily refer to previous conversations when building workout plans or changing existing ones.


1. Can tempo training influence muscle growth?

By controlling rep speed and providing enough time under tension, tempo training can improve muscle activation and lead to a greater muscle growth stimulus, even if the trainee completes fewer total repetitions before reaching the target RPE.

2. Is tempo training beneficial for strength development?

Tempo training is an excellent way to build strength through the full range of motion and eliminate weak points (e.g., lack of strength off the bottom of a squat). Additionally, by manipulating the tempo and assigning the appropriate load, you can help athletes focus on strength endurance, maximal strength, or explosive strength.

3. Is tempo training suitable for beginners?

Tempo training is an excellent way for beginners to get into fitness, particularly resistance exercise. The approach emphasizes proper form and control, which help new trainees build productive training habits that will help them get stronger and stay injury-free in the long run.

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