Shrugged Collective

How to add tempo, pause and drop sets to your training – N&P


First, thing’s first. What are tempo squats?

This is basically a squat were you go down slower than normal. You might see this programmed as 4-0-X-1, for example, which would mean a 4-second down phase, no pause at the bottom (0), an explosive effort up from the bottom (X), then a brief pause at the top before the next repetition (1).

Tempo work is amazing for beginners because it builds strength quickly, while reinforcing good position all along the range of motion. Also, tempo stuff is very hard, but it doesn’t require as much load as traditional lifts. If you’re beat-up, injured, have trouble recovering or if you cannot maintain good knee and hip position at the bottom of your squat, this is exactly what you need to be doing.

Athletes can certainly utilize tempo lifts with great results. As Doug mentioned on this week’s show, this is a great way to stay strong and save the joints some wear and tear. But you should do this first as an offseason experiment.

Experienced athletes are stronger. With more weight on the barbell, a slower eccentric phase is also going to result in more muscle damage and soreness. You’ll add mass like crazy, which is cool, but you don’t know how this will effect your overall performance. Experiment. Start easy. Give yourself a chance to adapt, then transition back into heavy, fast, traditional front and back squats as the season approaches.

This is a basic recipe for tremendous strength.



What about pause squats?

Pause squats are still considered tempo work, just with emphasized bottom position. Instead of no pause, you might sit in the bottom for a full 1-5 seconds.

This is tremendous for mobility and bringing up your postural strength. All that cannot help but improve as you spend more and more time being pressed down under barbell load. And just as before, this longer pause only serves to increase the requisite effort, all while reducing the recovery burden.

If you suck at the bottom of the clean, snatch, squat, whatever, pausing and taking away your momentum crush will greatly improve performance. This effect is only reinforced when you hang chains from the bar, but we can save that for another N&P episode.

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So, what is a drop set? 

Here’s an example for you. Work up to the heaviest weight you can lift for 5 reps, which would be your 5-RM. After that max-effort set, drop the load 10% to 270 then do 3-5 sets of 5 repetitions.

I will warn you now, this is an incredibly hard way to train. However, you will accumulate a lot of volume and strength quickly, because of all those reps. Also, there’s a nice potentiating effect from the hard RM set. By the time the drop sets come around, the work is still hard. But the load won’t feel nearly as heavy as it otherwise would have. That effect allows you to do higher-quality work with the barbell, which again, can only make your stronger. Drop sets are also great for beginners who need to learn how to put out a true maximum effort.

If you want to see exactly how we program tempo and drop sets, just visit musclegainchallenge.com. We’ve got a free strength eBook for you with some great sample programming and training tips.

Take your time and add some drop sets. It’s good for you!



Chris Moore is a writer, recovering meathead, fledgling raconteur and rabid imbiber. He's also cohost and resident potty mouth on Barbell Shrugged, a weekly podcast devoted to Crossfit, strength, fitness and all things brash. His experience is drawn from over twenty-years spent training for and competing in American Football, Powerlifting, a bit of strongman and a dash of mixed martial arts. Also, it's possible that he's had one too many cups of coffee. A caffeine fever is a hell of a thing, you know?


  • You mention rep schemes for drop sets, but what about suggested [beginners] rep schemes for tempo sets and pause squats.

    And you focused a lot on squats, but what other exercises are good for pause, tempo, or drop sets? I’m sure a lot of them, so conversely, are there any exercises that either a) don’t benefit from them or b) are risky to do in this fashion?

    • Duran, you don’t have to mess with the schemes at first. For tempo and pause work, just add those elements. A simple session of 5*5 squats where you go down for a tempo count, pause, then squat is very effective. Hell, probably better for you at this stage then going straight into regular lifts. Try a squatting down for a 4 count or something, pause for 1-2 seconds, then explode up quick. That will work well. Try that for a month, adjust the time, and make some more progress.

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