Tempo!!!

Time to get really nerdy about lifting!  

Watch the video above, and take notice of a difference or two.

For one, you probably recognized that the second squat took a lot longer to get to the bottom than the other.  You also may have noticed how much that slower squat highlighted my crappy mobility, but that isn’t what we’re talking about today.  

According to the timer and the brilliant metronome in my brain, that first squat took about 1/3 as long as the second one (1 second to 3 seconds).  The rest of the times of the squats are about equal.  About 3 seconds at the bottom, about 1 second to stand up and about 1 second at the top before I started the next one.  This would be expressed as a tempo of 3311 (more on that later).

So what does that matter?  Well, it matters a lot, for a lot of different reasons.  Lets look at the set of squats that I was doing.  They were supposed to be 5 sets of 4 squats.  

First and foremost, and on the most basic level, that means that had I continued squatting at the tempo that I did in the first video, I would have spent a total of 2 minutes under tension (with the bar on my back).  (1 second down, 3 seconds at the bottom, 1 second up and 1 second at the top= 6 seconds/squat x 4 squats x 5 sets = 2 minutes).  Had I squatted the way I did in the second squat for the whole set, I would have squatted for a total of 2 minutes and 40 seconds, or 25% longer.  Thats a fairly significant number.

Now, extrapolate that out for an entire day’s workload.  Yesterday I did 4 lifts.  I generally lift 5 days per week.  After a weeks time, comparing those two tempos, I would have done 13 minutes more of work by weeks end.  Say I lift 50 weeks out of the year.  That is almost 11 hours more time spent under a barbell.  

The hyper critical of you out there are probably thinking, “well thats stupid, some lifts aren’t meant to be slow”, or “so why don’t you just take 10 seconds on the way down then, and do a million hours of more work per year?” or “what does it matter, you got the work done, right?”

And on all counts, you could be accurate.  The point is not the extra work or time, it’s the variable.  Some days when I lift, I am fired up and can’t squat or move fast enough in my lifts.  Other days, I take it more slow.  I would imagine that you have experienced the same.  Similarly, take a look around the gym and notice the different tempos that people lift.  Some are naturally more fast, some are slow.  They aren’t necessarily right or wrong.  At least not for a few more weeks…

With all of the above in mind, we’ll be introducing Tempo prescriptions to our lifts in the coming weeks.  This will allow me to emphasize a certain part or parts of a lift, and will ensure that you are getting the most from the lift that day.  Your coaches will be helping you with deciphering the Tempo for that day, so you don’t have to memorize this quite yet, but most lifts will be written with a set of four numbers after the lift (####).  The first number is the eccentric part of the lift, or lowering phase.  The second number is the time spent between the lowering and raising of the lift (also known as the isometric phase).  The third is the concentric, or raising of the lift.  The fourth is the time spent between reps.  This never changes, and it’s extremely important to realize that will be very different depending on the lift.  For example, squats start with the eccentric phase of the lift.  Pull-ups start with the concentric part of the lift.  This means that the first number doesn’t always correspond with the beginning of the lift.  A 3010 Back Squat would be 3 seconds down, no pause, 1 second up, no pause.  A 3010 Pull up would be 1 second up, no pause, 3 seconds down, no pause.  

Make sense?  

If not, don’t worry about it.  It will.  

Sound overcomplicated?

Perhaps, but as I outlined above, it can be a powerful variable that will allow me to define the purpose of the lift to an even greater degree.  

For example, negatives are a tremendous way to develop strength.  (A negative is a slow eccentric phase of the lift.)  It allows the lifter to spend more time under tension without necessarily having to lift the weight.  One of the best and most potent ways to use this is with pull-ups and other bodyweight movements.  Getting your chin over the bar and slowly lowering your body weight allows you to work with your body weight through a range of motion that you would never be able to achieve if you aren't able to do a pull-up.  So, to work those negatives and strength in the final range of the pull-up, we could use a 5013 tempo.  1 second up, 3 seconds at the top, 5 seconds down, no pause.  

Another example is helping people with overhead stability and shoulder health through pauses at the top of overhead pressing movements.  For example, a 1113 (1 second up, 3 seconds at the top, 1 second down, 1 second pause) would have help you get comfortable with that weight overhead instead of barely finishing the rep with the bar out in front of you and starting over (the “high school weight room special” as I like to call it.)

Finally, it will ensure that everyone is getting the same dose of exercise for that lift.  One person isn’t working for 3 minutes while the other one rips through the sets in 2 minutes.  This will be similar to the Every Minute/2 Minute/3 Minute style of lifting we have utilized more lately.  The EMOMs allow me to prescribe a certain amount of rest per lift, while this allows me to prescribe a certain amount of work per lift.

Ask your coaches with questions, it will be an adjustment for everyone and one more thing to think about, but it will improve your fitness to an even greater degree, I promise. 

It's proven that putting a picture of Camille in your blog post instantly increases readership by 300%.

It's proven that putting a picture of Camille in your blog post instantly increases readership by 300%.