Let’s talk about what ‘tempo’ means in the world of fitness and sports performance training. Tempo training can be an effective way to boost the impact of your workouts. Done properly it can help you become stronger in less time than a traditional ‘rep’ based workout. The philosophy is simple and you need to first understand why tempo training works and then I’ll show you how you can add it to your present plan.
By Samantha Clayton
Why focus on your tempo?
Adding tempo specific training to your current routine can drastically improve your performance. The physiological benefits that can be gained from altering the tempo of your workouts include improved strength, endurance, conditioning and speed.
Unfortunately, I find that the concept of tempo training in the fitness and sports training world is often misunderstood. Athletes and coaches can have a different understanding of which tempo elicits the greatest response from muscles and the nervous system. Every athlete has specific needs and requirements based on their ability and goals, so all training should be approached on an individual basis.
Are you already using tempo training?
In strength training, tempo is simply the speed at which you are lifting, pausing and then lowering a weight. Many people naturally use tempo training without even thinking about it. For instance, I bet you structure your sessions based on how you feel, how heavy the weight is and whether or not you’re rushing to finish. Basically, tempo training is incorporating a new rhythm into your training that will help optimize your workout.
Many people do not understand that the tempo you use will directly impact the outcome of your workout.
Following a specific tempo when you’re strength training allows you to closely monitor the amount of time that your muscles are under tension. This is especially important for a bodyweight-conscious athlete such as a triathlete or any endurance based athlete because they want to gain strength without the bulk of large muscle-mass.
Make your training work for you
If you are trying to build muscle, the eccentric or lowering phase of a bicep or hamstring curl causes the most stress on the muscles. It is this stress under tension that causes the micro tears in the muscle which in turn leads to hypertrophy/muscle growth.
If you are looking to build strength and power, a fast but controlled concentric/ contracting phase will ensure you are using a coordinated effort. All of the motor units of that muscle group will be helping you to get an adaptation/change in the muscle.
The holding phase is essentially the two isometric pauses at either end of every lift. The most benefit is gained from the hold at the ‘stretched’ phase of an exercise. This pause can vary in length from virtually nonexistent to several seconds.
Add a little tempo to your life
It is important for athletes to work in the ‘relative strength phase’ especially when approaching a competition. This is achieved by using a 0-20 second count of time under tension for the muscles. In the week leading up to a competition, the volume of training should be reduced. In the weight room this would mean cutting down the number of sets or cutting down the volume and focusing on a few key exercises
To benefit, you must maintain the intensity of the session by keeping your weight the same or you will not have enough stimulus to elicit gains from the session.
Many athletes drastically reduce the size of the weight they use and increase the repetitions; yet I believe that every training session should count. If you are lifting relatively light weights for you, then you will not be forcing your muscles to change. This means that you’re really just going through the motions, rather than building your muscles.
As easy as 1, 2, 3, 4.
Many strength coaches use a four-count system. The first number is for the lengthening of the muscle, the second number is the hold in the lengthened state, the third number is the contracting of the muscle and the fourth number is the hold at the top of the movement.
Try this simple tempo training exercise: a standard strength tempo of 4-2-1-3 on a bench press chest exercise.
· Lower the weight to your chest in 4 seconds
· Hold the bar just above your chest for 2 seconds
· Press the bar back to the top in 1 second
· Then rest at the top for 3 seconds
Training with a focus on tempo gives you greater control of your session; it helps you to understand the results you want to achieve and also makes you more aware of your form. When tempo is a key component, you are less likely to use your body’s momentum to lift and lower the weights. This makes your muscles work harder and you’ll get results faster.
Try it for yourself and submit a comment if you find that tempo training works for you.
Written by Samantha Clayton. Samantha is a paid consultant to Herbalife.