Get Strong by Slowing it Down!

by Grace Lin

In the last post, we learned about the different types of muscle contractions: concentric, isometric, and eccentric.  Now, let’s see how knowing this information can be used in daily training to make all the gainz.  When you lift any type of weight, you are placing an external load on your body.  In other words, you’re placing your body in time under tension.  This is the stimulus that starts the process to building muscle.  Knowing this information, coaches can vary how long athletes spend time under tension in their strength training program.  We do this through tempo training (also known as time under tension, TUT, training).

What is tempo training?

Well, put simply, it is specified time under tension.  There are 4 numbers associated with all tempos.  Take this for example:  30X1

  • The first number (3) refers to the eccentric phase, or the lowering phase.
  • The second number (0) refers to the isometric phase, or a pause, at the bottom of the lift.
  • The third number (X) refers to the concentric phase, or the ascending phase.  In this case, it is an “X” which means EXPLODE up as quickly as possible.
  • The fourth number (1) refers to the isometric phase, another pause, at the top of the lift.

So if we apply 30X1 to a back squat, it would go like this: 3 second descent, 0 second pause at the bottom, EXPLODE up, and pause 1 second at the top.

It is VERY important to count correctly during tempo training, otherwise the purpose is completely lost.  I’ve seen many athletes count to 4 within 1 second during the eccentric portion of a back squat.  Make sure you are counting full seconds for these tempo prescriptions.  If it gets too tough, grab a friend and have them count for you!

Why should I do tempo training?

Well, for one, it is a fantastic tool to build strength – aren’t we here to make gainz??  Also, it slows the movement down so athletes can build better body awareness.  Along with that, it improves your control of lifts and your joint and muscle stability.  

Maybe most importantly, slowing down compound movements develops connective tissue strength.  A slow and controlled motion places more stress on the muscles, whereas a bouncy, ballistic motion places more stress on the tendons and joints.  Finally, the isometric pauses at the top/bottom of the lifts force you to recruit more muscle fibers, which means STRENGTH GAINZ.  This will help increase your muscle capacity and muscle endurance.

Who should do tempo training?

Everyone!  It’s great for the novice athlete to increase his/her body awareness, body control, and to build good mechanics.  It’s also great for the intermediate/advanced athlete to build strength, improve stability, and improve control of lifts.  And finally, it’s a fantastic tool for athletes who are rehabilitating from an injury because it slows down movements to recruit muscle fibers of a targeted area without placing a lot of joint stress.

When should I implement tempo training?

The most common time you will see tempo training programmed is during strength components or during accessory work.  This could look like adding a tempo to a back squat, bench press, or deadlift.  It could also be added to gymnastics movements, like adding a tempo to a pull up, ring dip, push up, or strict handstand push up.  For accessory work, you could add a tempo to hip extensions, glute ham raises, bent over rows, or glute bridges.  The possibilities are endless for the application of tempo training to your daily routine!  You could even add them to your air squats or, even better, wall squats.

A little goes a long way with tempo training.  You don’t need too many sets or reps to reap the benefits.  Start with 3 sets of 5-8 reps of your target movement, 2-3 times a week.  If you ever have any questions or want suggestions on tempos, feel free to ask any coach!  By putting in consistent work, you should see great improvement in a month’s time!