Using Tempo to Improve Movement on the Field

Coaches can use tempo training to teach correct movement patterns, helping their athletes avoid injury and boost performance.

"Sport-specific training" is a hot topic, but something that hasn't gotten enough attention is tempo training. Tempo training helps coaches really teach the correct movement patterns to avoid injury and improve performance in athletes across all sports. It helps them make sure their athletes are biomechanically proficient in their movement patterns before they become efficient.

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My colleagues at Athletes Warehouse and I always ask new athletes we're working with to complete a Bodyweight Squat. From that Squat, and eventually the Overhead Squat, strength and conditioning specialists can see:

  • Mobility issues that may exist at the ankle, knee, hip, back, and shoulder joints
  • Inefficiencies of every major muscle from the calf to the trap
  • Potential movement dysfunction that may have existed from a previous injury or trauma
  • Strength deficiencies
  • Body awareness and control.

Once we pinpoint exactly what a particular athlete needs to work on, we can then begin to teach and coach so he or she can become more biomechanically efficient.

RELATED: Tempo Squats With the Ball State Volleyball Team

One great method for teaching our athletes is to incorporate the "tempo" scheme into our programs. The definition of tempo is the rate or speed of a motion or activity—i.e., the pace at which you do something. When teaching or reteaching our athletes certain movements, we use tempo to control the pace of their movements.

By controlling the movement rate of a Squat—for example, slowing down the pace—a coach can see exactly at what point there seems to be an issue. Even better, the athlete can begin to feel the issue. This slow and controlled movement can help athletes begin to know their bodies and the way their bodies move and thus increase their efficiency in these movements at a faster rate.

In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle found a clear systematic template to developing movement patterns and thus developing athletic talent. One of his most interesting findings was the importance of slowing a movement down. When Coyle walked into a tennis facility where the best youth players in the world trained, he was expecting to see balls whizzing by at top speed. Instead, he witnessed each athlete moving as if he or she were underwater. They were going through each movement as slowly as possible and with extreme precision.

WATCH: David Marsh on Tempo Training

These athletes were able to see exactly what part of their forehand, backhand or serve had a deficiency. More importantly, they were able to correct it immediately on their own.

In his book, Coyle sums up the importance of training slow and controlled: "Going slow allows you to attend more closely to errors, creating a higher degree of precision with each firing."

Then, once an athlete has learned a movement, he or she can progress to performing the exercise at a faster pace and eventually with an increase in load.

Here is sample from a training program we use for Squats and Push-Ups, with a young athlete learning both movements.

Air Squats

Air Squats

The idea here is to progress the athlete from a teaching model to a traditional rate for the Squat. Once the athlete understands positioning at each segment of the Squat, he or she can progress to fully understanding how to move from position to position. Once the athlete masters the movement at a slow rate, he or she can progress to a faster rater. Finally, he or she can increase volume and eventually add load.

  • Set 1: 10D 5H 10U x5 (meaning - 10 second descent to bottom of squat, 5 second hold in bottom of squat, 10 second ascent (up) from the bottom position)
  • Set 2: 5D 5H 5U x5
  • Set 3: 5D 3H 0U x5
  • Set 4: 0D 3H 0U x5
  • Sets 5 and 6: x8 traditional squats



  • Set 1: 10H 5D 5U x5 (meaning - 10 second plank hold, 5 seconds down to the floor, 5 seconds up)

Progression here is similar to the Squat, increasing the rate of each set by decreasing the time as the coach sees fit. Even our elite athletes use the tempo option as a warm-up for their Olympic movements—for example, completing a 10-second Snatch with a PVC pipe to reinforce proper movement patterns, or our baseball and softball athletes completing 10-second swing prior to their hitting lessons.


  1. Coyle, Daniel. (2009). The Talent Code. New York, NY.
  2. Magill, R.A. (2011). Motor Learning and Control. New York, NY

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock