Introduction into tempo training

What is tempo training?

Tempo training is a way to prescribe and control speeds and pauses throughout all the phases of the lift. Tempo training can be used on all slow (power lifts), it would not be used on explosive or dynamic lifts such as weightlifting (clean and jerk, snatch). During tempo training weights or percentages of your one rep maxes will not be used. Instead you will lift the maximum amount of weight you can, while following the tempo. If you cannot follow the tempo reduce weight. If you can follow the tempo easily for the reps prescribed, add weight.

You will see tempo control four phases of the lift, and will be written something like this “Back squat 4/3/2/1.”

The first number details the time of the eccentric phase (lowering movement) of the lift. The eccentric phase in this example is the number 4, this means you would take 4 seconds to lower from the top to below parallel in the squat.

The second number relates to the pause after the eccentric phase, or the pause at the bottom. In this example the number is 3, so you remain under tension for 3 seconds at the bottom of the lift.

The third number is the concentric tempo, or how fast you will move to the top of the lift. In this example the number is 2, this means you will take two seconds to stand to the top of the squat. (Also you may see an “X”, this means to explode or move as fast as possible.)

The last number details the pause after the concentric movement, or the pause at the top of the movement. In this example the number is 1, meaning you will pause at the top of the squat for one second before either repeating the next rep or racking the bar.

Why Tempo?

By prescribing and following a tempo we are able to control more of the adaptation (outcome) of our training, in addition to controlling the overall time under tension/time under load of our strength training. For example our muscle’s ability to apply force production varies greatly from concentric to eccentric movement. The ability of our muscles to apply force during an eccentric movement (lowering) is greatest at slow speeds, but during a concentric movement (lifting) it is greatest at fast or explosive speeds. So if we are trying to maximize the force production of muscles we would extend the time in the eccentric phase and reduce the time in the concentric phase, essentially lowering down slowly and exploding up as fast as possible.

Tempo training can also be used to improve the athlete’s position, flexibility and stability throughout lifts. For example by using the following tempo for overhead press “2/4/1/4” we would force the athlete into a good position at both the bottom and top positions of the lift. This can correct athletes that do not bring the bar back to the front rack position between reps or have a poor finishing position of the bar overhead (not stacked over the heals/mid foot). The four second pause would force athletes to rack the bar on the front rack at the bottom and keep the weight stacked properly at the top, or else they would not be able to maintain the tempo. Have you ever tried holding an overhead press with the bar stacked over your toes and not your heels for 4 seconds? I didn’t think so. This will teach athletes rather quickly where the top and bottom of the lifts are, and develop stabilizing strength in each of those positions.

In addition to fixing positions throughout the lift, tempo can also shift stress and focus from muscular to connective tissues, and back and forth. For example by modifying the pause at the bottom of the squat we can control whether we are using a stretch reflex in our connective tissues (tendons) or are focusing on maximum force production from a halt (muscular). With no pause we would be using a stretch reflex, but by adding a 1-3 second pause at the bottom we would force ourselves to not only use maximal force production to complete the lift, but also to remain tight (improving midline stabilization) and put ourselves in a good position (improving flexibility).

Lastly, by controlling time under load or time under tension we are able to increase the time our bodies are under stress, by not increasing the amount of reps or sets. Essentially it is a good way to make sure you get the most out of the reps you complete (more bang for your buck). Additionally the increase of time under tension during squatting increases the time under load/spinal loading. This increase of spinal loading has been known to promote a favorable neuroendocrine response. This training will continue for at least three weeks. If you would like to read more on the topic, below is a great article.

next sunday

Hope you all enjoyed your day off, get ready to hit it hard this week!


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