Currently at TLC we are running a Tempo Strength Cycle with the big lifts; Back Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, and Strict Press. We have a big Powerlifting Showcase coming up in June of this year and we are using this cycle to build towards that as our end goal. I get a lot of questions about why we are doing this, so here we go.
We use tempos in our training for a number of reasons. Here are some of the big ones:
-Practice: Moving slower in general gives a great opportunity to practice movement patterns and ranges of motion. It can also give us a look into what we, as individuals, need regarding strength imbalances or flexibility/mobility restrictions.
-Neurological Connection: This can also be defined as practice, but is more specific to practicing mind-body connection as we move slowly through the range of motion. From beginning to end we are attempting to feel what is happening—from our breathing all the way to where our weight is distributed. Moving slowly gives us the ability to feel, correct, and then repeat until it’s second nature.
-Connective Tissue: Having healthy joints is paramount to success inside the gym but even more so to a healthy life. If our knees, hips, or shoulders bother us all the time, we are not living our healthiest life. Our muscles react to stress relatively quickly but our connective tissues (tendons, ligaments) take longer to adapt. We therefore need to progress appropriately through movement patterns and loading. One way to do so is using tempos. Slow movement and progressive loading strengthens our connective tissue around the joints.
-Growth/Strength: There are two phases of movement: the eccentric (lengthening) phase or the going down, and the concentric (shortening) phase or the going up. Tempos can be done in both eccentric and concentric phases. Now in the eccentric phase we recruit more muscle fibers to control the load. More muscle fiber recruitment means more strength and growth because slowing down the eccentric phase (tempo) can break down tissue more. As those tissues heal through rest and recovery, they grow and get stronger. Some prime examples of missing out on valuable eccentric loading is in the deadlift and pull-up. With the deadlift we take an object, typically a barbell, and pick it up off the floor. Now technically this is the completion of the movement. It is purely a concentric motion (up) and in disciplines such as CrossFit we would just drop the barbell to the floor. But by doing this we miss out on the eccentric loading of the movement. To do the deadlift better we should lift it off of the floor and control it back to the ground—pulling as much value out of the movement as we possibly can. The Pull-up is another great example. We typically hang from a bar, pull up (concentric) until our chin clears the bar, and then a lot of times just let go falling back to the floor and landing on our feet, thereby missing out on the eccentric phase of the motion. Much like the deadlift, we want to extract as much value from the pull-up as possible and finish the movement by lowering back down under control before letting go of the bar.
Strict pull-ups are hard and most, if not everyone, I work with wants to be able to do them. Guess what? One of the best ways to learn and build the strength to do a pull-up is by doing eccentric or negative pull-ups.
-Change of Pace: Tempos are a great place to start as a beginner but guess what, they are a great place for advanced athletes as well. Tempos can offer a challenging change of pace from the normal strength sets we may be used to and they come with big benefits. There is a saying about practicing the basics, mastering them, and then once you think your done, go back and start all over again.
The benefits of tempo training are clear and can be used for pretty much any exercise at any point in our training career. Use tempos to practice movement, build awareness, and gain confidence in our ability. This allows us to develop properly from the get go. Use them to break up other strength cycles or to start new ones. Use them after a long hiatus, during your warm-ups or even as a rehab tool after an injury.
This is a long but beneficial journey that will pay off in a big way. So embrace it and welcome all the strength and health gains.