In my opinion, probably the most versatile and the variation I utilize most in powerlifting is the tempo squat. Name just about any issue you could have with your squat, and the tempo squat could be used in some manner to help that issue. Above we have both @shane_k_2010 and @nik.jehle performing tempo squats. Both have found great benefit from this movement, but for different reasons. I have beginner lifters utilizing this movement all the way to my most advanced, but each application has a slight individual twist on why it is beneficial. I am going to try to give as much detail as possible while still trying to keep this brief, but below are the main answers for why and when to use tempo squats:
1.) To precede all other reasons, the main and overriding benefit of tempo squats is that it slows the movement down. Every reason below links back to this. Slowing any movement down allows a lifter to have more time to process cues as well as feel different positions throughout the full range of motion.
2.) The next main benefit that overrides most of the reasons below is that it is self limiting. I typically program tempo squats in the range of 85-90% of what someone could competition squat, with the vast majority right at 87.5%. This means we can still achieve high relative intensities while lowering the absolute intensity. Lower weight typically means a better overall ability to maintain positions and execute cues.
3.) And the last main benefit that overrides the rest of the below reasons, is that tempo squats really do a great job of improving movement. Even though the tempo may only be done during the eccentric portion of the movement, the quality of the eccentric then directly affects the quality of the concentric.
4.) So in what ways can it improve movement? First off, it helps to a support proper knee to hip flexion during the eccentric, allowing us to feel even tension distribution as we load the squat during the descent.
5.) Second, to achieve this proper tension distribution, we must also have the proper distribution of foot pressure. The slowed down eccentric gives us that extra time to actually notice our foot pressure and make slight adjustments when we are shifting towards the toes or even the heel.
6.) Next, the tempo squat helps us to maintain proper bracing and pelvic position as we descend. When we speed up the eccentric, many times we lose the initial braced position we set at the top of the movement, but with the tempo it allows increased emphasis on maintaining that position through the full descent.
7.) Now that we have a better understanding of the core benefits of tempo squats, as well as how it helps movement, next up is the specific movement issues it addresses. First up is the chest fall pattern. The chest fall pattern is typically due to improper weight distribution during the eccentric, usually from pushing forward at the bottom and having to shoot the hips up as we accelerate out of the hole. Tempo squats allow us to improve that eccentric loading so that as we reach to bottom we have a better distribution of tension and can resist shifting our weight forward towards the toes. Also, the increased time to process cues allows us to think about maintaining torso position as we transition into the concentric portion of the movement.
8.) The other big movement fault tempo squats help to address is some form of shift within the squat. Shifts can come to light a different ways, but the two main shifts you will see is either a shift as you come up out of the hole or a shift that occurs throughout the entire movement as you bias towards one side. Part of fixing a shift is being able to feel the asymmetries in tension side to side, and tempos squats allow us to feel the changes in loading side to side as we descend. And just like with the chest fall pattern, it also gives time for us to process cues as we transition into the concentric portion.
9.) As mentioned above, I use tempo squats with beginners all the way to my most advanced athletes, but for different reasons. For beginners, tempo squats are utilize to help teach movement. They help to improve the technical proficiency of the lifter and help them find the optimal squat form for their mechanics. For an advanced lifter though, I am usually programming tempo squats as a means to prevent form regression. If you think advanced lifters can’t regress on form, you are gravely mistaken. Just the slightest little change in an advanced lifter’s squat pattern can manifest itself over time into a major change, so tempo squats can be of great benefit to help maintain their movement proficiency.
There is even more I could go over, but the things I did’t cover are typically addressed by the above list. For example, if someone tends to have knee valgus, the improve tension distribution and bracing mechanics are the fix, so these more specific issues get addressed naturally with the above points. I wanted to write this article as I believe sometimes tempo squats get marked as something only a beginning lifter needs to do, but I believe that is far from the truth. The benefits are far reaching, even if it just means using this variation too help self limit the loading.