Tempo Squats: Do They Actually Do Anything?

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 20, 2022

Among the more advanced variations of the conventional squat, the tempo squat holds a particular place of favor in many powerlifter’s hearts. 

This is because of the fact that tempo squats are one of the most effective strength-building tools in a lifter’s repertoire, allowing both sports-specific improvements and general leg muscle development within a single compound movement.

Tempo squats are simply conventional barbell back squats performed with the eccentric or descending portion of the movement slowed down to a predetermined length of time so as to increase time under tension during the lift.

Why is the Tempo Squat Performed?

Tempo squats are such a versatile training tool that they are in fact used for numerous purposes, with the most common being greater isometric muscular recruitment due to a longer time under tension.

While this can indeed result in greater strength developments and muscular hypertrophy, tempo squats are also capable of inducing several other training benefits that are not otherwise present in the conventional variation of the back squat.

squat tempo 4010

These can be errors in form that the lifter is otherwise unaware of, an improvement in muscular endurance development or even as a way of increasing the difficulty of a squat in situations where the lifter does not have access to sufficient weight.

Regardless of why the tempo squat is added to a training program, lifters can be assured that all these benefits come bundled into the exercise’s surprisingly simplistic mechanic, and that there is no need to perform the exercise differently in order to emphasize a particular result.

Who Should Use the Tempo Squat in Their Training?

The tempo squat sees the most use in powerlifting or similar strength-based athletic training routines, though it can also be used to address form and muscular imbalance issues in the conventional back squat as well.

Though the tempo squat is just as capable of developing muscle mass as any other squat variation, it is generally advised that lifters perform a different variation if hypertrophy is their goal, simply because tempo squats allow for less volume to be performed per set than other kinds of squats.

How to Do a Tempo Squat

A tempo squat is performed in the exact same manner as a conventional squat, just with the eccentric portion of the movement slowed down to a specific length of time.

The most common tempo is that of a 4 second eccentric phase, though other training programs may make use of 2 seconds if higher volume is one of the goals in mind.

One mistake many individuals make when performing the tempo squat is that they pause in the middle of the movement - a major error that arrests momentum and reduces dynamic time under tension of the muscles. 

Instead, the lifter should evenly spread the movement out over the length of their tempo, slowing the squat down to an appropriate speed in accordance with the length of time required.

Finally, it is also quite important to ensure that both the hips and knees are moving simultaneously throughout the repetition, regardless of whether the lifter is in the eccentric or concentric phase of the movement.

Benefits of the Tempo Squat

Apart from the usual benefits of any squat-type movement, the tempo squat also provides several positive effects uniquely attributed to its performance - making it the perfect tool for individuals in need of such advantages.

Longer Time Under Tension

The most obvious benefit of the tempo squat is in its longer isometric and dynamic time under tension, of which will result in the aforementioned benefit of increased muscular strength and endurance development.

A lesser known effect of lengthier time under tension is that more calories are expended as well, resulting in the tempo squat being an excellent alternative for individuals seeking fat loss.

This is compounded with the reinforcement of proper exercise mechanics that come with the performance of the tempo squat, resulting in a leaner and more efficient athlete overall.

Exercise Mechanic Diagnostics

As was covered earlier, the tempo squat is also capable of acting as a method of diagnosing any errors that the lifter may have in their conventional squat movement pattern.

A failure to push the chest out appropriately, or moving the knees and hips at separate times will both arrest the momentum required to perform the tempo squat with correct form - giving instant feedback on what the lifter must focus on during their squat execution.

This has been used to great success by many novice and intermediate powerlifters, though one must be careful not to overuse the tempo squat so as to avoid excessive squat volume interfering with their training programming.

Biomechanical Issues Diagnostic

In addition to the exercise mechanic feedback provided by the tempo squat, it can also give the lifter insight into any potential biomechanical issues that may be interfering with their squat execution.

Whether this is poor mobility in the joints of the legs, body proportions that may be incompatible with their current squat stance or even injured areas that the lifter is unaware of - the slow and controlled descent of the tempo squat should provide feedback in the form of poor form adherence or even discomfort during the movement.

Lifters should be cautious when making use of this particular benefit however, as biomechanical issues relating to heavy compound movements like the squat can quickly lead to injury if ignored - or otherwise aggravated by excessive volume, such as would be the case in repeated tempo squat sets.

Increased Exertion and Intensity

Tempo squats are also an excellent method of increasing the already significant intensity of barbell squats, allowing lifters to achieve a number of benefits that come with performing such exercises at high levels of exertion.

This particular squat variation can be used to acclimate athletes to high levels of sustained exercise intensity, or even as a method of inducing supramaximal exertion in the muscles of the legs.

Tempo Squats vs Pause or Pin Squats

The tempo squat is often confused with pause and pin squats, two other variations of the squat that feature alterations quite similar to the slowed descent of the tempo squat.

squat pause

The pause squat, unlike the tempo squat, features a full stop during a certain point of the repetition - something that is considered an error in the tempo squat, and will otherwise lead to different results than what is achieved with the latter squat variation.

barbell pin squat

The pin squat, on the other hand, is simply a conventional back squat with the range of motion physically limited by the presence of rack pins, making it quite distinct from the tempo squat in execution and results.

Though each of these squat variations are useful in their own respective roles, the tempo squat is meant to be used in situations that call for a slower squat execution to be utilized, something that the other two exercises cannot achieve.

Common Mistakes of the Tempo Squat

Braking at the Knee

Braking at the knee is a mistake not only performed during tempo squats, but practically any squat variation.

However, it is particularly dangerous during tempo squats because of the lengthened time under tension of the exercise, which places even greater pressure on the knee joint and can lead to soft tissue injury if the arrested momentum is combined with excessive amounts of weight.

squat incorrect knees

The lifter should halt their descent gradually, and at multiple points along the kinetic chain so as to avoid injury - regardless of what exercise is being performed.

Independent Joint Movement

Just as braking entirely at the knees is a mistake, moving the hips and knees independently of one another is also a common mistake of the tempo squat.

Moving the hips prior to moving the knees can cause the lifter to tip forward, altering the mechanics and focus of the exercise while placing greater stress on the knees and quadriceps muscles. 

squat hips too high

Likewise, moving the knees prior to the hips will cause the lifter to “drop” too suddenly, defeating the point of the tempo squat and also placing great stress on the connective tissue of the knee joint.

squat hip hinge cue

Just like in an ordinary squat, the lifter should move from both the knees and hips in a simultaneous manner, thereby distributing the resistance appropriately and ensuring one fluid movement is performed.

Failure to Stick to Tempo

It is often difficult to judge the passage of time while under intense exertion, especially during the tempo squat. This often leads lifters to spending too little or too much time during the repetition, affecting the total volume they can perform and even their long-term results.

Through the usage of a clock, phone application or even a friend, lifters can ensure that they are following the correct tempo during their tempo squat execution.

Tempo Squat Common Terminology

Tempo squat timing is often displayed in raw numbers, with “4010” or “2010” being the most commonly seen tempos.

These numbers refer to the number of seconds the lifter spends between portions of the squat movement, with the first number referring to the length of time the lifter must spend on the eccentric phase, the following number referring to the bottom of the repetition, the third number referring to the concentric phase and the last referring to a pause between repetitions.

In short, this means that “4010” equates to four seconds spent during the eccentric phase, no pause before the concentric phase, one second spent on the concentric phase and no predetermined pause between performing further repetitions.

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve covered how to perform a tempo squat, its many benefits and how to read a tempo number, you can easily incorporate this training tool into your strength-building routine.

Just like in any other squat variation, make sure that proper training programming is followed, and that you adhere to correct form mechanics at all times.

References

1. William I. Wolf, Hoon Kim, Kristof Kipp. (2021) Musculoskeletal modelling based estimates of load dependent relative muscular effort during resistance training exercises. Sports Biomechanics 0:0, pages 1-11.

2. Wilk, M., Zajac, A. & Tufano, J.J. The Influence of Movement Tempo During Resistance Training on Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy Responses: A Review. Sports Med 51, 1629–1650 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01465-2

3. Suchomel TJ, Wagle JP, Douglas J, Taber CB, Harden M, Haff GG, Stone MH. Implementing Eccentric Resistance Training-Part 1: A Brief Review of Existing Methods. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2019 Jun 24;4(2):38. doi: 10.3390/jfmk4020038. PMID: 33467353; PMCID: PMC7739257.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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