Intensity Amplifier: Four Rep Tempos in One

Intensity Amplifier: Four Rep Tempos in One

When you head into the gym, the box, the track or wherever it is that you choose to work out, you’ve probably got a plan written out, it’s on an app or it’s mapped out in your head. You’ve got everything covered from start to finish, except for the intensity. Sure, your intensity can be written and be prepared for, but when it truly shows is when you set the workout log to the side and get to work.

Here at Men’s Fitness, we strive to find and share some of the best tips and tricks to consider when trying to bring your A-game, every time. Strength and Conditioning expert, Jon-Erik Kawamoto C.S.C.S. gives us an Intensity Amplifier that looks at four different repetition tempos you can apply within a set of four.

Tempo Guide:
The tempo of an exercise is the speed of each repetition, normally written as four numbers in the format ABCD. The first number (A) is the eccentric phase (muscle lengthening; think of the down phase in a squat or bench press) and C is the concentric phase (muscle shortening; think of the up phase in a squat or bench press). B is the pause between the eccentric and concentric phases (think pause at the bottom of the squat or bench press) and D is the pause after the concentric phase (think pause at the top of a squat or bench press).

* For example, a tempo of 4121 would be read as: 4-seconds eccentric, 1-second pause, 2-seconds concentric and 1-second pause.

Rep Tempo One: Slow Negatives 4/1/2/1

Benefits of Slower Negatives:
Slow negatives will jack up the intensity of any exercise as the weight typically used with slow negatives is heavier compared to “normal” sets. Slow negatives result in muscle ripping reps with intense delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) a couple days after the workout. This training style is hard on the body and should be used in phases, but when applied, is great for taking your strength and muscle building to the next level.

Rep Tempo Two: Fast Negatives 1/0/X/1

Benefits of Fast Negatives:
Fast negatives are commonly seen when performing plyometrics or explosive reps. Fast negatives allow for the storage of elastic energy that can be utilized in the subsequent concentric phase of the movement resulting in more explosive power. Ensure the eccentric phase is fast, but performed with control and make sure the pause or transition before the concentric phase is as short as possible. This will provide maximal power production.


Rep Tempo Three: Controlled High Speed Reps 1/0/1/0

Benefits of High Speed Reps:
High speed reps are great for metabolic conditioning-type or fat burning focused workouts. Whether you’re using timed sets or if you’re trying to hit a certain rep-count in a specific amount of time, you’ll want to use high-speed reps. The biggest caution with this tempo style is ensuring your technique doesn’t go out the window. Use perfect form, but just speed it up! If your technique goes to shit, slow down the tempo a little to regain better form. Simple compound and isolation-type exercises work well with this tempo style; whereas, more complex lifts such as O-lifts are quite dangerous performed for time. If your technique is dialed in, go for it, but if you’re new to O-lifting, save these lifts for other workouts where the pace isn’t an issue.

Rep Tempo Four: Paused Reps 2/4/2/0

Benefits of Paused Reps:
Paused reps are great for increasing strength out of the hole. They are also great for increasing TUT (time under tension), which is great for hypertrophy (muscle growth). This tempo style removes the stretch-reflex that occurs after the eccentric phase of an exercise, resulting in a greater challenge during the concentric phase. Picture the bench press. Load the bar with a sub-maximal load. Un-rack the bar and take 2 seconds for the down phase. Pause for 4 seconds at the bottom (no resting the bar on your chest). Take 2 seconds to press the bar up and repeat. Stay tight in your bench-set-up and keep all your muscles activated—this is not a time to rest—this is an active pause. This also works great for squat variations as well.


About the Trainer:

Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MSc Kin(c), CSCS, CEP is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Fitness Writer currently based in St. John’s, NL, Canada. He has contributed to several major health and fitness magazines and is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Human Kinetics at Memorial University. You can find more of Jon-Erik’s work at

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