How to Use Rep Tempo
Now that you are aware there are 3 phases in a rep I.e. eccentric, isometric, concentric, you can now learn how to apply this to your workouts. Dancers and musicians use tempo, weight training can also follow the same type of thing. You never want your reps to be “clunky” or “choppy”, and this will take time and practice to achieve. However, the important thing is making yourself accountable and staying on top of actually doing the desired rep tempo. Applying rep tempo and making your working sets smooth and cyclical means your muscles “time under tension” has increased, basically meaning you are placing your muscle under stress for longer. When rep tempo is controlled properly, your workout results will increase 10-fold, and that’s a promise as long as it’s implemented properly.
Traditionally, rep tempo is written on an exercise program in the format:
- First number is always the eccentric/lengthening phase
- Third number is always the concentric/contraction phase
- Second and Fourth number are always the isometric phase.
For this example, there is a 3 second eccentric phase, 2 second isometric pause, a 1 second contraction which indicates it should be performed explosive and powerful, and then a 1 second isometric pause before the next rep phase starts again with a 3 second eccentric. We can use a traditional squat as an example and apply this rep tempo. When you start off with the squat, you are starting in a “shortened” muscle position so your first phase is going to begin to lengthen the muscle from its shortened position, which is the eccentric phase. As you squat, you are lengthening and stretching the muscle fibers, only now you need to do this controlled and for a count of 3 seconds. Count in your head, 1-2-3. On 3, you should be at 90 degrees where you will pause for your first isometric phase for 2 seconds, count “1-2”, holding the squat in this position is going to make it more challenging on your muscles. The concentric/contration phase is next, where the muscle shortens as you are pushing against the load/resistance, squeezing your butt and glutes tight through the concentric contraction exploding up. Now you are at the top, where you hit your 2nd isometric phase where you squeeze your muscles tight for 1-second before starting the 3-second eccentric phase again. You do this in a cyclical tempo until the desired rep range is achieved.
Time under tension is the ultimate reason why rep tempo is applied, and why it is so incredibly necessary for you to implement! The longer amount of time a muscle is being put through tension or lengthening, the more microscopic damage occurs to the working muscle fibers. This tension and resistance will build through each rep, which is why you should start burning and struggling about halfway through your set. If the muscle is not being challenged or overloaded, it will not reach it’s growth potential. The fact a set starts to become very challenging is a positive thing, and a sign that time under tension is catching up to you. Now controlling the eccentric for 3 seconds is going to become much harder, you will want to make this more like a 1 second drop. Holding the squat for 2-seconds during your isometric phase after you’ve struggled through the lengthening/eccentric phase is going to be torture, and then after that when you are really tired, you need to perform the most effort and power you can muster up through the concentric phase. The point of adding rep tempo and creating a strong time under tension influence in your programming is to make your sets and workouts extremely challenging. Placing a tempo parameter on your workout and struggling to maintain that tempo with good form and execution is how you make a 45 minute workout extremely intense and highly effective. When you have set parameters around your workouts you must follow, this limits any mental breaks and cheats you may give yourself when training on your own. It’s something to stick to, something to follow, and a guideline to maintain. On top of this, rep tempo adds an element of “surprise” to your programming so plateauing can be avoided. Changing the amount of reps and rep tempo week by week can help your results stay on a steady incline.
For beginners, I would recommend practicing:
- 3-4 second eccentric phase
- 2 second isometric phase
- 1 second tense and powerful contraction
- 1-2 second isometric
The longer eccentric and isometric phases will slow down the movement which can increase chances of improving mind to muscle connection, as well as muscle fiber recruitment. A slow and controlled rep range can help establish form and execution which is the beginners number one goal before continuing a workout program. Reduce injury by developing strength. Lay down a foundation that can be safely built upon as you progress month to month. Fast reps do not mean good reps, slow it down, and focus on making the muscles you are exercising execute the movement properly.