We use Tempos A LOT in training for many reasons. They are great for developing motor control, increasing mind muscle connection, building positional strength, increasing joint/tendon and muscular strength, and regulating intensity with time under tension.
Motor Control & Mind Muscle Connection
When you go to perform a movement, your brain has to direct your body to move in a certain way. Bending your knees, pushing your butt back, sinking your hips down, lifting your arm up. Whatever it is that you have to do, your brain tells the rest of your body to move that way through your nervous system. The signal starts in your brains, moves to your spinal cord, and then out to the muscles through nerves. This all happens incredibly quickly, but at first it is not very efficient. You might shake, wiggle side to side, find yourself out of position, or just feel uncoordinated and off balance. Using tempos to slow down the movements & pause at different stages of an exercise helps you learn where you should be in space. Sometimes, we just go too fast and are out of control. It is really hard to learn new movement patterns without doing them slowly and letting the mind-muscle connection happen.
Positional strength is simply strength to hold proper positions in a movement. I.E. keeping a neutral spine in a deadlift or an upright posture in a front squat. Pauses at end range are a great way to build strength at end ranges of motion, where you are most likely to feel weak. Controlling the movement slowly forces you to hold good positions for a long time, allowing you to really focus on bracing and technique. You may be able to squat 300 lbs, but if you’re doing one of the background, knees caved in, good morning-lookin squats you’ll only make it so far before you get hurt (trust me, been there….)
Joint/Tendon & Muscular Strength
Tendons get strong ONLY in the eccentric phase of a lift. This means, they are only doing work that is good for them when you control a movement down (think lowering into a squat, or controlling a strict pull up on the way down). If you do too many exercises where you skip the lowering fast (fast squats, olympic lifts, running, jumping, etc) you can end up with tendon damage. That is why we use tempos often with compound movements like squatting, deadlift, and pressing. Movements done slowly and with control build tendons up and keep you from getting hurt. On top of that, muscles get stronger in the eccentric (lowering) portion of a lift than they do in the concentric (raising) portion of a lift. While the contrentic phase is the fun part (where you actually get to complete the movement like standing up a squat, or locking out a bench press) the lowering phase is actually more crucial to building muscular strength. Don’t skip it!
While intensity is a good thing once in a while, it is not recommended to lift heavy and do really hard workouts day in and day out. Really, you only need 2-3 days of intense training per week to be healthy and live long. The rest of your time in the gym can be spent improving on movement patterns, building strength, and simply moving at controlled paces. Tempos are a great way to regular intensity because you can only go so heavy and so fast when you have to pause and control the movements themselves.
Tempos as always written as follows:
Eccentric – Isometric hold – Concentric – isometric hold
Eccentric (3) is the “lowering” phase of the lift. In some lifts, this happens first (Squat, Bench etc.) and in some lifts it happens second (deadlift, pullup, etc.). Either way, the eccentric is ALWAYS written first.
The isometric hold (0) is the “Pause” or “hold” phase of the lift, where you are not moving load in either direction.
Concentric (1) is the “work” phase of the lift, where you are using muscle contractions to move load against gravity.
At the top of the lift we have another isometric hold (2).
What this looks like in your program:
Back Squat 5 reps @30X1 x 3 sets
For this lift you would control the load down 3 seconds, hold 0s, eXplode up, 1 second hold at the top x 5 reps for a total of about 25s of Time under tension per set.
Everyone should be using tempos in their training. If you’re not, you’re missing out of building strong & healthy joints, improving the quality of your movement and building muscular strength. You might also be running yourself into the ground if you don’t have another way to regular the intensity of your workouts.
Have questions about Tempos, joint pain, or getting stronger? Email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to answer any questions!