Using a Tempo Focus with Build ‘N Burn Workouts
By Sarah Rippel
The concept of tempo is not a new one, but it has become more popular in recent years regarding strength programming. Tempo is basically the speed at which a rep is performed. It can be easily integrated into the original Build ‘N Burn programming to create an entirely different training experience!
The goal is to emphasize time under tension (TUT) by placing deliberate emphasis on various aspects of a lift. I have found that being proficient at manipulating tempo makes teaching movement so much easier! Furthermore, I have found the use of tempo to be beneficial in a group setting.
First off, slowing down and/or pausing movements forces people to focus! This is huge today where people seem more distracted. Getting people to tune in to how they are feeling during workouts is important, and with an emphasis on tempo, it makes this easier.
Secondly, placing more emphasis on the eccentric (lowering) portion of a lift can help “wake up” muscle groups that a person isn’t feeling during a movement. It encourages better engagement. This can lead to better movement and performance.
Third, slow eccentrics plus pausing at the bottom of the lift can not only help with engagement, it can help people get into better positions. Take the squat, for example. You have a person who seems to have trouble getting down into a good bottom position of the squat. They do not have any hip or ankle mobility issues to address. So, what’s the deal? Often, this type of client simply needs to know that it is “safe” to get into a certain position. They need to be taught how to engage and brace properly during the movements. Their lack of depth during a squat could be the result of their body sensing it doesn’t have the proper ability to stabilize.
So, what do we do? We give them the ability to stabilize and voila! Better squat mechanics! How do we accomplish this? Sometimes it can be as simple as goblet squat holds for time or patterning the squat with slow eccentrics &/or isometrics.
Another benefit of using slow eccentrics and/or pauses with exercises is that you do not need to use as much loading. This comes in quite handy if you are short on equipment! Furthermore, in situations where “going heavy” may not be desirable, you can amp up the intensity quite well by slowing things down. It can be a nice change from a focus on loads and maxes!
To follow a logical progression from Phase 1 through Phase 4 of the original Build ‘N Burn programming, I recommend starting with slower tempos and progressing from there.
Tempo schemes can be used anytime and at any place within a program. You do not have to use them for every exercise in a workout, but you could if you wanted to.
Tempo notation as “@ABCD” is as follows:
A = eccentric (lowering of mass)
B = pause at bottom position
C = concentric (lifting of mass)
D = pause at top position
If you took Build ‘N Burn and started from the beginning of the 16 weeks of programming, you could use a “base” tempo of @40X1 and build from there. Your rep schemes would reflect the increased time under tension. To me, it makes sense to start with a slower tempo and increase it as a program unfolds. This enables beginners to gain better mastery of movements, but also challenges more experienced people who can load up the movements. This tempo structure allows for a slow eccentric but does not utilize a pause in the bottom position in weeks 1-12. In week 13, a pause is implemented and the progression can build from there.
Here is an example of how tempo could be used within the Build ‘N Burn programming:
Phase 1: @40X1 x 4-6 reps
Phase 2: @30X1 x 6-8 reps
Phase 3: @20X1 x 8-10 reps
Phase 4: @41X1 x 4-6 reps
Here I have taken PHASE 3 – BUILD A from BNB as a framework, & adapted it based on this thought process.
CIRCUIT 1: 10 min AMRAP at controlled pace (or three rounds)
A1) Get-Up Sit-Up @40X1 x 4-6 reps
A2) Tall-Kneeling Pallof Press @40X1 x 4-6 reps/side
A3) Band Speed Skiers x 10-20 reps
*The Get-Up Sit-Up is a great movement with which to use tempo because the eccentric portion is the “laying down” part of the movement. We obviously do not want to encourage people to be flinging themselves back to the floor during strength work. Note: In a “for time” conditioning setting under proper conditions, the use of more momentum can be utilized, but that’s a whole other article!
*The Pallof Press is another movement that can be improved with an emphasis on the eccentric portion. Yes, the pressed-out position is highly important and is typically held for time, but I feel the eccentric is also of value. I have found that people tend to relax after holding the pressed-out position and pay little regard to the returning of the hands to the upper abs to “reset” the movement. By placing emphasis on the eccentric, a person must maintain engagement & control. I feel a cable is preferable over a band for this movement in general, but bands are much more user-friendly in the group setting.
*Band Speed Skiers are an explosive movement, hence I haven’t attached a tempo requirement to them.
CIRCUIT 2: 10 min AMRAP at controlled pace (or three rounds)
B1) Staggered Dumbbell RDL @40X1 x 4-6 reps/side
B2) Slo-Mo Mountain Climber – Band Across Upper Back @40X1 x 4-6 reps/side
B3) DB Front Rack Reverse Lunge @40X1 x 4-6 reps/side
*The Staggered DB RDL is a great movement with which to use a slow eccentric! It can help those who get sloppy in holding their upper backs tight, as there is more time during which they must resist the urge to slump as they hinge over. In addition, for anyone who has difficulty feeling their glutes, the combination of the staggered stance with a slower tempo will light things up! I prefer the staggered stance over a single-leg setup for most people, even those who have good balance on one leg. I feel it just works better.
*We want the Slo-Mo Mountain Climber to be performed slow in the first place, so factoring in a specific tempo here just works. There is a 1-second pause at the “top” position (where one knee has come toward the chest and the other leg is extended), then a 4-second return to the high plank position. When performed with an exhale, this can really help a person connect with their core!
*The DB Front Rack Reverse Lunge is a great way to add an increased challenge to the midline (core), and the slow eccentric from this specific tempo format takes this up a notch! For less experienced people, use a split squat with bodyweight or load using the same tempo.
CIRCUIT 3: 10 min AMRAP at controlled pace (or three rounds)
C1) Double KB Front Squat @40X1 x 4-6 reps
C2) Staggered Stance 1-Arm Band Row x 10-20 reps
C3) Lateral Lunge to Curtsy Combo @40X1 x 4-6 reps/side
*The Double Kettlebell Front Squat rocks with this slow tempo! Just as with the Front Rack Reverse Lunges in the previous circuit, the anterior load of the front squat challenges the core. In addition, the slow tempo requires proper alignment and bracing as the squat is performed.
*The Staggered Stance 1-Arm Band Row is best performed with higher reps, in my opinion. I feel the tempo emphasis is hard to incorporate here, as the band resistance essentially disappears as the arms return to starting position, thus negating the effects of a slow eccentric. Therefore, I feel cables can be advantageous over bands, but as mentioned before, bands are usually a lot easier to incorporate into a group setting. Yes, there is still benefit in that muscle engagement is required to go slow on the eccentric, but this means the person must be actively working to contract their lats, etc. The alternative is to perform higher reps with band work, which I feel is more beneficial.
*The Lateral Lunge to Curtsy Combo can most definitely be juiced up with a slower tempo. I would execute this by taking four seconds to sit back and sink into the lateral lunge, then standing up strong and pausing a second prior a four-second descent into the curtsy lunge. The slow eccentrics will help ensure that people maintain proper alignment with their upper bodies as they perform the lunges!
CIRCUIT 4: Reverse Tabata Format: 10s Work/20s Rest x 8 Rounds (alternating movement each round)
D1) Squat Jump
D2) Hollow Flutter Kicks
So there you have it – the simple concept of tempo can be very powerful if you know how to apply it. Again, you do not need to use it with every exercise, but it can have quite an impact on basic strength movements.
I will be discussing the concept of tempo (along with many other concepts that are vital to designing effective group training programs) in more detail in my upcoming book!
Check out top level programming by Sarah Rippel :
Home Program Design Mastery plus Done for You programs,templates and more!
“The Ultimate Small Group Training System” The most Comprehensive Guide to Semi-Private and Small Group Training for Fit Pros.
Build N’ Burn – Done For YOU 16 Wk Metabolic Group Training Program for Fit Pros
Check out The Done-for-You 12 week Build ‘N Burn 2.0 for Fit Pros:
Other articles by Sarah Rippel: