Are you growing tired of the same old workouts week in and week out? Have you hit a plateau in your training and are no longer seeing the results you desire? Have you been working out for a while and still do not have the coordination you were told you would achieve through time? If you answered yes to any of these questions then changing up the tempo of your exercises may be the answer to your struggles!
Tempo training has been a way to radically change a workout and help exercisers get more out of their time in the gym for a long time yet it is still a relatively under-utilized technique! Tempo training refers to the alteration of timing during the eccentric (usually the lowering part of a lift), the concentric (usually the pushing part of a lift), and the time spent at both the top and bottom of the lift. This means that when setting the tempo of an exercise there are usually 4 numbers to consider. For example: 3-0-1-0. The first number is time it should take to perform the eccentric phase, the second number indicates how long to pause at the bottom or midpoint, the third number indicates the time it should take to complete the concentric phase, and the last number is how long to hold at the top of the exercise. Let’s use a dumbbell bench press as an example, still using the 3-0-1-0 tempo. This means that we would take 3 seconds to completely lower the weight, with no pause at the bottom, and only take 1 second to lift the weight back to the starting position where we immediately start the next rep since the last 0 indicates no hold at the top.
While this is all well and good you may still be wondering how this variation in training can be so beneficial. Well, here are a few reasons changing tempo is so great. First, by focusing on how long it takes to complete certain phases of an exercise and forcing yourself to move the weight in a controlled fashion you are developing a much stronger mind-muscle connection. This is essential for coordination, proprioception (knowing where your body is in space such as knowing you are moving while on a roller coaster even though your eyes are closed), and can lead to strength gains due to improved control and technique during the exercise. In addition to these advantages, tempo training is often used to accentuate the eccentric phase of an exercise. This is very useful because some studies have shown that we are able to lower with a controlled motion up to 40% more weight in the eccentric phase than we can lift in the concentric phase. This makes sense when we consider exercises such as the bench press. When lifting maximum weight, lifters always fail on the concentric or upward phase of the lift, never on the downward unless the load far exceeds a reasonable attempt. For years physical therapists and trainers have been taking advantage of the eccentric phase because not only can we handle more weight in that phase, but it has been proven that lifting weights with a slow and controlled eccentric phase have shown to build more muscle and strength than traditional uncontrolled tempos. Without getting too far in depth the theory of why this happens is called the Velcro theory. It is the idea that the muscle filaments act like Velcro once contracted, or shortened, and when we trying to pull them back apart, it causes more damage to the muscle which leads to greater repair and adaptation.