Take simple squats up a notch with tempo training


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Squats do for your glutes what gassing up does for your gal pals: Lifts ’em up. Many fitness instructors say it’s hard to get a perky patootie without squats, but if you’ve incorporated the go-to move into your fitness routine and you’re not getting the results you want, I have some news: Plain old squatting needs to be taken up a notch. It’s time to drop it in tempo.

Tempo training is a type of strength training, and it’s mega for strengthening and toning muscles. While you can apply the tempo training method to almost any bodyweight exercise (looking at you push-ups, sumo squats, and lunges) or barbell moves (see you soon back squats, front squats, deadlifts, and bench presses), it’s most commonly used during squats. Because, duh: #peachgains.

Wondering what the heck this tempo training thing is and how to do it properly? Scroll down to for all the intel from pro trainers.

tempo training
Photo: Getty Images/Seventy Four

So what is tempo training exactly?

“Tempo training is another way of saying training where you change the speed during the movement at hand,” explains Elena Moffa CPT, trainer at NEOU in New York City. For instance, let’s think about an air squat. Usually it takes you a second to get to the bottom of the squat, and then a second to get back to standing. According to her, tempo training, would manipulate the speed of the squat, so instead of 1 up, 1 down, you’d add a pause at the top, the bottom, and the half-way point. Usually, the “tempo” is broken down into 4 phases: 

  1. The seconds down (the eccentric portion)
  2. The seconds paused at the bottom (the isometric hold)
  3. The seconds up (the concentric portion)
  4. The seconds paused at the top

So an example might be a 4-2-1-0 squat, which is 4 counts down, 2 counts at the bottom, 1 explosive count to return to standing, and then no pause at the top (aka, you’d drop right into the next rep), explains Melody Scharff NASM, trainer at Fhitting Room in NYC. Another tempo might be 1-3-1-1, which is a 3 second hold at the bottom plus a beat to breathe at the top. But really, there’s no limit to how many different tempos you might try. In fact, Scharff recommends as many variations as possible, which will allow you to target the tush muscles at different angles—whether you’re using weights or not. 

The benefits of tempo training

First of all, tempo training is great for muscle strengthening“It increases the time that your muscles are under tension and working, which is all the rage when it comes to muscle and strength gains,” says Moffa. “Holding a pause at the bottom of the squat for a few seconds forces the body to recruit and activate more of the glute muscle fibers, which will result in strength gains.” The reason why comes down to the nitty-gritty of hypertrophy—science-speak for muscle growth, which comes with extensive health benefits.

In addition to developing your glutes, there are a few other reasons to tempo train when squatting. “You can’t rush when you tempo train. By slowing down each movement, you boost your body control and awareness, and improve your stability,” says Scharff. Plus, it can help people pinpoint weaknesses within movements, which is why the method is often used by weightlifters to break through a back squat or front squat plateau.

To get started with tempo training, first nail the traditional bodyweight squat. Then slow it down (Scharff suggests a 2-3-2-1 tempo to start). Once you can comfortably do 20 unweighted reps at that tempo, go ahead and try a weighted tempo squat. You can use any weighted squat variation, such as a goblet kettlebell squat, a Bulgarian split squat, a back squat, or a front squat. 

Just remember: The name of the game when tempo squatting is slow and controlled movements, so even though you’re working under tension, the weight should not be controlling you. More control and bigger gains? Sounds like a win-win to me.

For even more butt-sculpting goodness, check out these moves from buzzy trainer Charlee Atkins and the girls of Tone It Up. or for strength training tips: try these three creative ways to do a deadlift

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