How to Understand and Use Tempo in Weightlifting

How to Understand and Use Tempo in Weightlifting

A Practical Guide For Coaches, Athletes, and Fitness Enthusiasts

The reason why we as coaches use tempo is to specifically control the athlete. Tempo is an important tool which can not only help the athlete learn the movement, but also develop appropriate motor patterns and body control.”  – OPEX Coach Mike Lee

Tempo, also known as time under tension, is a programming tool which allows the coach to specifically alter and target specific results in an athletes program. Coaches who master tempo can use it to work the athlete’s position, mechanics, movement progression, metabolism, control, and absolute strength. It is critical to your success as a coach that you understand how to use tempo.

Tempo is the rate or pace in which an activity is performed. Essentially, tempo and the way it is prescribed represents how long the muscle or group of muscles is under load or tension. Manipulating tempo can change the complete intent of the training program. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you understand this concept. Tempo represents the foundation of Functional Bodybuilding.

(Mini History – OPEX Coach Mike Lee and Marcus Filly developed Functional Bodybuilding to use the principles of tempo to rehabilitate Marcus in the 2016 offseason.)

Before we discuss how to write a tempo ‘prescription’ you need to understand the different types of muscle contractions.

The Three Types of Muscle Contractions:


An application of force to a muscle in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction. I.e: The bottom and top of a squat, as well as a plank.


A contraction where the muscle elongates while under tension due to opposing force being greater than the force generated by the muscle. I.e: The lowering portion of the squat.


A type of muscle contraction in which the muscle shortens while generating force greater than the external load. I.e: The standing portion of the squat.

Now that we understand the definitions of the various contractions. Let’s take a look at how to write a tempo. Tempo should always be written as a 4 digit prescription like the example below. @42X1

You may be scratching your head at what exactly that means. But let’s break it down.
Digit 1 Represents the Eccentric
Digit 2 Represents the Isometric Bottom
Digit 3 Represents the Concentric
Digit 4 Represents the Isometric Top
The way in which and the amount of time the tempo ‘prescription’ is written changes the intent of the piece. There are four main categories of intent that change depending on the tempo.

    1. Position/Mechanics By slowing down the movement, you are forcing the athlete to develop an awareness of what the body is doing and should be doing in each muscle contraction or even one specific muscle contraction within the piece.
    2. Metabolic –  If you increase the total amount of time under tension, you increase the amount of work required, which in turn increases the metabolic demand of the actual contraction. (I.e. @7530 is a significant amount of time under tension as compared to @21X2.)
    3. Progression You can keep the tempo the same for the movement and gradually decrease the amount of time under tension in the sets to force weight progression and advancement.  (An example of this would be @4010 to @3010, @2010.)
    4. Control –  Tempo requires the athlete to utilize every muscle in order to meet the demands of the tempo. This forces the athlete to remain in control and develop muscles to maintain it.

Does it still seem complicated? Check out this video where OPEX Director of Coaching Mike Lee explains tempo, how to program it and how to understand its use in training progressions.

Tempo plays a critical role in the success and effectiveness of a Functional Bodybuilding program. Develop programs for your clients that promote recovery, strength gain, and mobility with our free guide which includes sample programming. 

Free Functional Bodybuilding Guide


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