How do GET STRONG: Part 2: Tempo Training
Okay I get it, you want to LIFT HEAVY. But what if I told you going light and slow could lead to more strength gains? Now that I’ve got your attention let’s talk tempo training!
First of all let’s define tempo training. This is performing an exercise at a specific cadence throughout the movement. There are a variety of ways tempo can be prescribed such as pausing in the bottom or top of a lift or lowering at a specific time interval.
The main priority with tempo training is to increase the time under tension of a lift. That is how much time our muscles are under load and contracting during a rep. You see traditionally without adding a longer tempo we could only increase time under tension by doing more reps or more sets of an exercise.
How to Read Tempo
Before we talk about the “WHY” behind tempo training let’s explain how you would read it. A tempo prescription will always have four numbers representing the time during four stages of the lift.
Back Squat 4×3 at Tempo 22X1
In this example every set of Back Squat consists of 3 reps. During each rep you will follow the tempo prescription.
The First Number:
The first number represents the lowering (eccentric) portion of the lift. For back squat this would be the time on the way down. This is commonly confused with the first phase of a lift, but remember it is always the lowering phase. For a back squat you start the movement by lowering, however in a deadlift you start the lift with the concentric portion. In a deadlift the first number still describes the lowering portion which will actually be the third phase of the lift.
The Second Number:
The second number represents the time spent in the bottom position of the lift. For the back squat this would be the bottom of the squat. For a deadlift this would be time spent with the barbell on the floor.
The Third Number
The third number represents the ascending (concentric) portion of the lift. This is the time on the way up of a back squat. Also the time spent lifting a barbell off the ground in a deadlift. You will notice in the above example there is an ‘X’ in place of a number. This stands for explosive and will be the one time you may not see a number. The goal is to move as quickly as possible.
The Fourth Number
The fourth number represents the time spent pausing at the top of a lift. This is standing upright at the top of a back squat or deadlift.
In our example above of 22X1 an athlete would take 2 seconds to lower, pause for 2 seconds in the bottom of the squat, stand up fast and pause for one second at the top of each rep.
Benefits of Tempo Training
Time Under Tension
We already talked about how tempo increases time under tension so now let’s talk about why that’s important. Well in order to have a physiological adaptation we need to stress the muscles. And by increasing the time that the muscles are under load we will increase the stress.
What’s great about tempo work is we can increase time under tension without lifting super heavy. By going slower and pausing you can increase the difficulty at lighter loads. This is great for high volume training like CrossFit which will give your joints and nervous system a break when building strength while doing lifting in workouts.
Another huge benefit of tempo training is to improve technique and mechanics of a lift. By going slower and forcing pauses you can’t get away with sloppy technique. This forces you to be in control and own your positions. Forcing a specific tempo is a great way to increase strength in specific portions of a lift that may be a weakness.
Strengthens Ligaments & Tendons
When it comes to improving resilience in tissues such as ligaments and tendons we know that it takes more time and longer training history to strengthen these as opposed to muscular tissue. This is very important for joint health in sport and in life.
If you want to fast track strengthening the ligaments & tendons then tempo work is the answer. Increasing the time under load will improve strength in these tissues more quickly than lifting at a fast cadence. This is a great tool to keep in mind if you are rehabbing an injury. Start with tempo training to slowly progress back with lighter loads while mimicking the same benefits of heavier loads!
Now that you know the benefits of tempo training you can add them more regularly to their training! And keep in mind that one of the biggest benefits is longevity in training. Slow and steady wins the race!