What is rep tempo?
You might be asking yourself what is rep tempo? Rep tempo is the speed or time it takes to complete a repetition in all phases and throughout the entire range of motion. It tells us how long the muscle is stressed or is under tension. You will see rep tempo described with a 4 digit number. These numbers represent the 4 phases of a repetition and are represented in seconds. To understand rep tempo you need to understand what these 4 phases are.
The first number represents the first phase of a repetition. This is the eccentric or the negative phase. This is the part when you are lowering the weight, when the muscle is lengthening. For our example we will use the dumbbell squat. The negative is the part when you are lowering yourself down to the bottom position. Now the first phase always represents the negative phase of the movement. This can sometimes be confusing to people because many movements like the barbell curl start with the concentric or positive phase of the movement and people may mistakenly think this is the first number in the rep tempo. In a barbell curl you start the movement with the arms extended at the bottom and the first phase of the movement is the positive or contraction. But since the first number always represent the negative the lowering of the weight after you completed the positive phase is actually the first number in the rep tempo. But regardless of if the movement starts with the positive part of the movement or the negative the first number in a rep tempo prescription always represents the negative.
The second number represents the transition phase between the completion of the negative phase and the start of the positive phases of the movement. In the dumbbell squat this is the bottom part of the movement when you finish lowering yourself down to the bottom position.
The third number represents the concentric or positive phase of the movement. This is the contracting of the muscle or the shortening of the muscle. Some refer to this as the lifting phase where you are actually lifting and driving the weight through and contracting the muscle. In the dumbbell squat here this is where you are extending up out of the bottom position and lifting yourself and the weight up.
The fourth number represents the end of the positive phase or the completion of a repetition. In the dumbbell squat this is the phase right here when you finish the positive phase and driving yourself and weight up.
Now let’s put this all together. Say you have a repetition tempo prescription of a 4110 for a set of dumbbell squats. This would mean on the negative phase you would lower yourself down to the bottom position for a 4 second count. Since the second number is 1 that would mean you would pause for 1 second in the bottom position or transition phase between the end of the negative and start of the positive phase. The third number is a 1 so that would mean you would take 1 second to complete the positive phase of the movement and drive yourself and the weight all the way up. The fourth number is 0 so that would mean there is no pause at the end of the completion of positive phase of the repetition.
So since rep tempo tells us how long the muscle is stressed or under tension we can tell that in this exercise the muscle was stressed or under tension for a total of 6 seconds. 4 seconds on the lowering phase or negative, for 1 second holding the pause at the bottom position and 1 second on the positive lifting the weight up.
For reference a “0” in a rep tempo represent no pause in the movement and an “X” represents an explosive movement where you drive the weight through as explosively and forcefully as possible. Even though you are lifting the weight explosively with an “X’ tempo you are always in control of the movement and using strict form. All the other numbers represent seconds.
Rep tempo is an important workout variable that can be changed and manipulated in workouts to add change and variety in workokuts, to break past plateaus and to help make strength and muscle size gains. There is a whole science and method to rep tempo. Take advantage of this exercise variable to make strength, fat loss and muscle size gains in your workout.
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