Does your trainer utilise a training variable called “Tempo” in their group training programmes?

It was a great addition to training in the fitness world originating from Australian strength coach Ian King and Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin.

Charles Poliquin AKA the Strength sensei introduced the 4 digit version of tempo into training

Charles Poliquin AKA the Strength sensei introduced the 4 digit version of tempo into training

It is normally written as a 3 digit number (originated by Ian King), or as a 4 digit number (originated by Charles Poliquin).


The first number is the lowering phase – i.e. lower down in 3 seconds. (also called eccentric)
The 2nd number is an isometric hold – i.e. 2 seconds hold (pause) in the stretched position.
The 3rd number is the lifting – i.e. 1 second to lift (also called concentric part of the lift).
The 4th number is the isometric hold (pause) in the contracted position.

The philosophies of both coaches are very similar, but Charles added the 4th digit to be able to manipulate the hold / contraction at that part of the lift, e.g. top of a squat, or the hold at the top of a chin up.

So we need to understand the effects of the number of repetitions multiplied by the speed (tempo) to determine the time spent under load.

Tempo can have a big effect on your outcome.

6 reps slow is not the same set as 6 reps fast.

The introduction of tempo as a training variable has been a great addition in designing fitness programs and dictating training effect.

Tempo is hugely beneficial when it is tailored specifically to your training programme based on your control of the exercise, your limb length and the specific exercise you are performing.

The problem is that a personal trainer in Dublin applies a one sized fits all – cookie cutter approach to group exercise in group training, Crossfit WOD’s or a bootcamp in Dublin,

Let me explain why a one sized fits all standard application of the same tempo in exercise to a class by a personal trainer in Dublin can increase the risk injury.

For example let us look at two members who join a bootcamp in Dublin aimed at weight loss and start a programme where there is a standard one size fits all approach to exercise and a standard application of tempo.

One is a 5ft female with a balanced ratio between the length of her limbs and her torso.

The other is a 6ft 4” male with long limbs and a short torso.

They are asked to perform an exercise called a Jefferson Squat holding a kettle bell between their legs.

When they both hold a 16kg kettle bell – the distance from the end of the kettle bell to the ground is 19” for the female client, and 26” for the taller male.

Tempo is a training variable that needs to be individualised, even in group training programmes

Tempo is a training variable that needs to be individualised, even in group training programmes

The distance that we move in exercise is sometimes referred to as range of movement. It is dependent on your injury history, limb length and also the angles at which your bones enter your joints.

No two bodies will have the same range of movement.

The coach writes out the programme and tells the two clients that the tempo is 3010 for the Jefferson squat.

He shouts out “lower the weight to touch the floor in 3 seconds.”

So the eccentric motion is lower the weight in three seconds
No Pause, Lift in one second,
No pause at the top.

What’s the problem here?

The taller male client has a bigger distance to travel, 7” per repetition to reach the same external reference point (floor) that the coach recommended, than the shorter female client.

So the taller male client will have to move faster.

What’s wrong with this?

Movement or Exercise of any sort involves the application of force so the taller client’s risk of injury escalates because of the cookie cutter approach to exercise that the bootcamp in Dublin utilises.

The 16kg weight is no longer 16kg weight when the exercise begins.

The taller client has to travel faster to cover a bigger distance in the same time / tempo than the shorter client.

It’s physics.

Newtons Second Law of Motion states that the net force (pressure into joints) equals mass (16kg weight plus the clients bodyweight) times acceleration (speed the client travelled to reach the end point).

Newtons 2nd Law

Not only will the weight need to travel faster, but you will need to put on the breaks harder to decelerate the weight and then initiate a new force to change the direction to lift the weight back up.

And we have not included the additional weight that is travelling at speed other than the kettle bell, your bodyweight. The taller client is 94kg and the shorter client is 52kg.

They still have to decelerate their bodyweight when it descends and changes direction.

That means the physics of force application changed when you added the variable of speed / tempo in the exercise.

And with it, you increased the force into your joints. Putting such force into your joints repetitively will over time damage your body’s long term health.

If you are trying to be fit over 40 years of age, consider that your break pads (joints and cartilage) will wear out quicker if you treat them incorrectly.

They will start to grind and crack and maybe ache a little, and these “little leopards” that you are currently ignoring will become “big leopards” and big leopards kill.

While exercising if you are consistently moving fast and you have no control, you could end up in an operating theatre for a joint replacement when all you wanted was to lose a few pounds.


The same things happens in force application with all exercises such as chest press, dead-lifts, squats, bicep curls and chin ups.

And if you participate in Crossfit, the consequences escalate further because you are trying to perform specific lifts with a standard weight for all the participants against the clock despite your different anatomical limb lengths and proportions.

Yet again, one size exercise prescription does not fit all!

Everyone lifts the same weight (load) to reach the external point of reference to complete a repetition but it’s a competition to complete your repetitions as fast as possible.

So the taller athlete causes more damage to their joints and muscles as they have to cover a bigger distance than the smaller athlete in the same time frames.

Understand, you don’t pick your sport, your sport picks you. Some people are suited to certain exercises and sports because of their anatomy and limb lengths. They chose the right parents.

There are very few 5ft basket ballers in the NBA or 5ft 6” goal-keepers in the Premiership.

Do you remember the Volvo ads, where the car giant was demonstrating the damage caused by a car and the consequences to its passengers when it crashed at different speeds.

Two cars crashing at 20 mph versus two cars crashing at 60mph have very different outcomes in terms of the impact damage to both cars and passengers.

The speed a car travels influences how much damage it will cause, so why is it not true with exercise?

The speed a car travels influences how much damage it will cause, so why is it not true with exercise?

Lifting weights at the wrong speed for your body has the same impact on your joints as the damage caused by the cars crashing at high speeds.

Your joints experience force in decelerating the weight moving at speed before having to change the direction.

Speed can kill in exercise just like motor cars, albeit over a longer process.