Tempo Prescriptions – What Are They?

What is tempo?

Tempo prescription is a tool that allows coaches to target and change certain aspects within an athlete’s program. By manipulating time under tension, coaches have greater control when designing resistance training and movement progressions.

Tempo prescriptions take into account the three types of muscle actions. We will use the back squat as an example.

  1. Concentric – the muscle shortens because the contractile force is greater than the resistive force (the standing up part of the squat)
  2. Eccentric – the muscle lengthens because the contractile force is less than the resistive force (the lowering of a squat)
  3. Isometric – the muscle length does not change, because the contractile force is equal to the resistive force (the top and bottom portions of the squat)

How are tempo prescriptions read?

The most effective way to write/read a tempo prescription is following the 4-digit method. This method is followed by fitness powerhouses such as OPEX, Charles Poliquin, and CrossFit Invictus. This gives you control of every aspect of the lift/movement.

  • Digit 1 – Eccentric
  • Digit 2 – Isometric in bottom  
  • Digit 3 – Concentric
  • Digit 4 – Isometric at top

Examples include

  • 40X1 – 4 sec down, 1 sec pause, X explode up, 1 sec pause at top
  • 2020 – 2 sec down, 0 sec pause, 2 sec up, 0 sec pause
  • 55X2 – 5 sec down, 5 sec pause, X explode up, 2 sec pause at top

These numbers are always read left to right.

How to Implement them

If you are experiencing a plateau in strength gains, maybe you should experience with tempo. A simple design for a back squat progression is as follows:

  • Week 1 – 33X1; 5,5,5; rest 2-3 min
  • Week 2 – 32X1; 4,4,4; rest 2-3 min
  • Week 3 – 31X1; 2,2,2; rest 2-3 min
  • Week 4 – 30X1; 1,1,1; rest 2-3 min


In conclusion, some benefits of utilizing tempo within program design include:

  1. Motor Control – slowing down a movement will force athletes to feel certain positions and build that mind-body connection when learning new movements or refining their technique.
  2. Progression – allows the coach to effectively progress the athletes using time under tension as a training variable (33X1 then 32X1 then 30X1)

As always, this is all dependent on the individual and their individual needs. Not everyone requires tempo prescriptions, but it certainly is valuable when used properly.

All the best,



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