Tempo training – what is it and why is it important in rehabilitation?

“Tempo” – from Latin tempus meaning ‘time’

Tempo training has been around for decades.  In simplest terms, it pays specific attention to the rate at which you perform an exercise.  It will often be described by using four numbers or symbols to indicate the different phases of the exercise. If we use a bodyweight squat exercise as an example you may see the following written:

Bodyweight Squat 3 x 10 reps [3131] – rest 30 seconds between sets:

In this example you would perform the squat by moving from standing upright to the bottom of the squat slowly over 3 seconds, pause at the bottom of the movement for one second, slowly rise to the top of the movement over 3 seconds, pause for one second then repeat. This would be one rep.

Bodyweight Squat 3 x 10 reps [10X0] – Rest 30 seconds between sets

This example would be moving much more quickly into the bottom of the squat over 1 second, then moving back to the starting position and quick as possible (“X” = quickly as possible or explosive) with no pause at the top or bottom.

In both examples you would complete the same number of squats but how the exercise would feel and, more importantly, the response your body has to the exercise, would be very different. Not convinced??  Give the two a go!

Why does this matter?

By changing the tempo you can actually change how the soft tissues, muscles and nervous system adapt in response to the exercise, which means you can optimize your rehab and avoid aggravating possibly sensitive or healing tissues.  Practice examples of this would be:


Focus:               Long hold at start / end of movement

Benefit:           Improving postural endurance and motor control

Example:         Push up exercise to retrain scapula / rotator cuff stability


Focus:              Slow concentric eccentric phase (“Time Under Tension”)

Benefit:           Building muscle / hypertrophy

Example:         Squats early after ACL injury to target restoring a wasted quadriceps muscle


Focus:              Fast / explosive movements with definite pause at start / end

Benefit:           Increasing power and control

Example:         Heel raise progression of Achilles tendon at mid to end stage rehabilitation


Focus:              Functional movement and build both strength and speed

Benefit:           General strength / conditioning

Example:         Walking lunges for end stage patella tendinopathy

As Physiotherapists we use the latest research to make evidence based practical decisions about how to select the best exercises to get you out of pain as quickly as possible and back to your best!


written by Michael Brace