Understanding Tempo

Learning how to read and implement tempos are a key for your success in the N1 program. Tempos are used for progression, changing resistance profiles, altering the stimulus to the nervous system, emphasizing what is being recruited and where it’s being recruited.

If you are doing a program without tempo, or you’re not following the prescribed tempos, you need to listen up. Tempo is one of the most important variables in determining the stimulus of your training program. Reps and sets are meaningless if you don’t control for what the reps are doing. You could argue that tempo is just as important as the load you choose. In fact tempo and reps combined are what really determine the load can/should be using.

If you are not controlling tempo you can throw out the concepts of progressive overload, and any sorts of progression because you are not controlling the program via controlling the effect of each rep.

Tempo not only determines how much time under tension there is in a rep, it determines the amount of time you spend in the 4 phases of a rep. Eccentric, lengthened, concentric, and shortened. Each of these phases has different metabolic and mechanical effects on the muscle. You can create more or less mechanical damage, or create more or less metabolic stress simply by altering the tempo.

Tempo also allows you to capitalize on the resistance profiles of different exercises. Some exercises will have greater resistance in either the lengthened or shortened position. Controlling the tempo allows you to emphasize these portions of the exercise to get more out of each rep.

A program can not have a clear goal without tempo because it opens the execution of the program to too many variables.

Tempos in Your Program

Lifting tempos will be written in your program to explain the intent in which the exercise should be performed. Common lifting tempos are: 3011, 4010, 3110. Let’s look at the 3110 tempo.


3 – Time in the eccentric

1 – Time pausing after the eccentric in the lengthened position of the muscle

1 – Time in the concentric

0 – Time at the end of the concentric. This is the shortened position of the muscle.


The first number is the eccentric portion of the exercise, in the above case the number 3, is the amount of time we would like you to spend in the eccentric portion of the exercise. The eccentric is when the muscle we are trying to train is lengthening. For example, the lowering of the dumbbells in a curl or the raising of the cable during a lat cable pull down. The important thing to remember is that this is not always the lowering of a weight or at the start of the exercise.  It is the lengthening of the muscle.

Lengthened Position

The second number, in the above example 1, is the pause after the eccentric. A pause after the eccentric is a way to reduce momentum and maintain tension in the muscle being trained. For example, in the bottom of a squat there is still tension and this is a good place for a pause to be programed. Pauses can be written for 1 second or more depending on what the emphasis of the exercise and program are.


The third number, in the above example 1, is the time spent in the concentric. This is the actual contraction of the muscle and movement of the load.

Shortened Position

The fourth and final number, in the above example 0, is the time spent in the peak of the contraction. If there is a time written here, usually 1-2 seconds, it is called an isometric.  You are not just holding the weight there. You are consciously trying to squeeze the muscle as hard as possible, as if you were trying to make it cramp.

We must take into account the resistance profile of an exercise when writing an appropriate tempo.  Take two examples the barbell squat and the leg extension.

In the top of the barbell squat there is no reason for a written pause. The joints are stacked, and there is no tension in the muscle. A pause written here is allowing the muscle to rest. In the leg extension there is load in the peak of the contraction and time spent here is acceptable.


Key points to remember:

  • The first number is not always when the exercise starts, it is the eccentric
  • The eccentric is the lengthening “stretch” of a muscle
  • The concentric is the shortening of a muscle “contraction or lifting of the load”
  • First number – the eccentric, the lengthening “stretch” of the muscle
  • Second number – pause in the lengthened position
  • Third number – the concentric, the shortening of the muscle “the lifting of the load”
  • Fourth number – the pause in the peak of the contraction

Do not ignore the tempos written in your program, they are key in achieving the stimulus written for your training phase.