Learn the Definition of Tempo Squats, How to Correctly Perform and Program Them, Their Most Notable Benefits, and Who They Are Best Suited For.
While playing basketball professionally and preparing for the season ahead, I used to implement tempo squats to prepare my musculoskeletal system for the numerous challenges I was about to face. What do I mean by that? Well, varying the tempo of your exercises, not just squats, is useful for many reasons. These include better mind-muscle connection, teaching your body how to absorb the force properly, and varying time under tension (TUT).
However, incorporating slow eccentric exercises was something that helped me immensely in increasing my muscle hypertrophy, one of the primary goals of every athlete in development during the offseason. In fact, one of the studies suggests that slower eccentrics (lowering phase during squats) increases muscle hypertrophy, while faster concentric phase (moving the bar towards the ceiling in this case) is much better for strength and power development.
I regularly implement tempo squats with my clients for numerous reasons. Some of them include better control of muscle hypertrophy, but the most important is correcting bad form and technique. I can better spot which phase of the lift mistakes occur and make sure my clients correct them before getting injured.
How to Perform Tempo Squats
Below, I would take the example of the 2-0-2 tempo, but essentially, all things stay the same; you just add one second to both the eccentric and concentric portions of the lift to get the 3-0-3 or whichever tempo you desire.
Step One — Assume the Starting Position
Load the barbell with appropriate weight plates. Place the loaded barbell on your back and take a step back to have enough space to perform the exercise. Assume a shoulder-width stance with your feet, point your toes slightly outward, and ensure your back is strong and your eyes are looking straight ahead of you.
Pro Tip: Slightly flex your knees and contract your core and glute muscles to become more stable and eliminate any possibilities of potential injuries.
Step Two — Perform 2-Second Eccentric
Slowly lower your body towards the floor by initiating triple flexion – flex/bend your hips, knees, and ankles simultaneously. Lower over the course of two seconds.
Pro Tip: Incorporate abdominal breathing so you match the tempo of inhaling with the tempo of the eccentric phase. This will help you perform the exercise with better technique and less chance of injury.
Step Three — Transition From Eccentric to Concentric Phase
When you reach the bottom position, immediately transition to the following step. However, depending on the tempo prescribed, this phase may involve a static hold.
Pro Tip: Actively engage your core and explosively push through your heels, ensuring a seamless and powerful switch while maintaining your form. This rapid shift not only builds strength but also improves your reactive muscle capabilities.
Step Four — Perform 2-Second Concentric
Initiate triple extension to return to the starting standing position; extend your ankles, knees, and hips simultaneously. Take two seconds to come back up.
Pro Tip: Imagine and visualize firing all the muscle fibers in your legs to drive the bar with ease while still focusing on the 2-second tempo.
What Are Tempo Squats?
The tempo squat is a modification of the original squat exercise, which allows you to change the amount of time you spend under each of the muscle action or movement phases of the lift. The most popular tempo squats are 2-0-2 and 3-0-3.
What Is the Definition of Tempo?
In the context of performing exercises, the tempo is the time you dedicate to each phase of the movement. Essentially, there are three muscle actions or movement phases. Those include:
– Eccentric phase: The working muscle lengthens.
– Isometric phase: When the working muscles generate force without changing their length.
– Concentric phase: The working muscles shorten.
The prime mover is simply the muscle responsible for generating the majority of the force in the movement. You can also think of it as the muscles you want to target with your chosen exercise. Sometimes, the prime mover can be a combination of several muscles. In the context of squats, think in terms of glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
How to Read Tempo?
To read tempo correctly, you must first know each part of its written form. Essentially, in the fitness space, people represent tempo in either 3 or 4 numbers:
– X-X-X: in this example, the first X defines the time it takes for the eccentric phase, the second one describes the same for the isometric phase, and the third one represents the time it takes for the concentric phase.
– X-X-X-X: Everything is like in the first example, but the fourth X represents the time between two reps.
Consider a tempo of 2-1-2. This simply means that you will:
– Perform the eccentric phase for 2 seconds.
– Perform the isometric phase for 1 second.
– Perform the concentric phase for 2 seconds.
Also, the isometric phase is always the static portion of the lift between the eccentric and concentric phases. In the case of squats, that would represent the lowest/bottom squat position, and you would be supposed to hold it for X number of seconds.
How to Program Tempo Squats? (Sets, Reps, Load, and Frequency)
If you are a beginner, start with 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps with around 60-70% of your 1RM. Also, start with the tempo 2-0-2 and, after two to three weeks, proceed with the 3-0-3 tempo. The rest of the intervals between the sets should be at least 2 minutes. Don’t perform this tempo squat workout more than once a week. You can potentially combine a regular leg workout with this tempo variation, but make sure not to overtrain. Overtraining syndrome is when you experience a decline in performance due to excessive training without adequate recovery.
Tempo squats can be a valuable addition to your training routine, whether you’re an athlete looking to improve performance or an individual seeking to build muscle and strength. By understanding the definition of tempo, how to perform tempo squats correctly, and how to program them effectively, you can maximize your results and minimize the risk of injury. So give them a try and reap the benefits of this powerful exercise variation.