Tempo, and Why You Should Love This Strength Cycle

For those of you that are a part our membership and private Facebook group, you’ve already gotten a taste of this subject, but I’ll expand on it further here, so read on.  If you’re not a part of our gym, you should be.  If that’s not an option, you should still read on, as you might learn something.

The current training cycle we’ve just started will be largely focused around an increased time under tension, or the amount of seconds that you are actually working during a movement. At other times throughout the years, we are more focused on weight, speed, or just getting the work done, regardless of the time it takes. To implement and have control of this time under tension, we’ll be using a 4 digit Tempo prescription. This tempo is always the same, regardless of whether the movement starts at the top or bottom. It goes, 1st number= down, 2nd number= time at the bottom, 3rd number= time on the way up, 4th number= time at the top. So, for a back squat @ 3010, it’s 3 seconds down, 0 seconds at the bottom, 1 second up and 0 seconds rest at the top. Somewhat confusingly, a pull-up could have the exact same tempo, but might confuse you more, since the movement starts with the 3rd number (the up). So a pull-up at 3010 would be 1 second up, 0 seconds at the top, 3 seconds down and 0 seconds at the bottom. To confound things even more, there can be an X in place of a number, which signifies “eXplode”, and has more than once caused some major confusion when clients thought they were doing 30 x 1 Back Squats instead of 30X0 Back Squats (big difference).  At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “I’m confused, there has to be a better way than this wacky 4 digit number idea.” Well, this is the industry standard, so at least if you’re confused now, rest assured that you can count on that confusion in any (legitimate) gym you go to.

You may wonder, “why bother with all of this confusion?” “Let’s just squat until we can’t squat anymore.” Well, while that’s a great sentiment, and you’re welcome to keep that same attitude, but the use of tempo allows us to have a tremendous amount of control over a given movement. If a movement prescription is given as Back Squat; 3 sets of 10, rest 2:00, the squatter could go at a pace of 1111 and have a total of 4 seconds per squat. Or, a squatter could go at a pace of 2115 for a total of 9 seconds per squat (and a shit ton of rest at the top per rep). In fact, I see this all the damn time. A set should be of 10, but instead of just doing 10 squats in a row, it becomes, squat, stand at the top and have a conversation, squat, stand at the top and sip some water, etc. It’s just not the same.

So, as most of you who are members of the gym know, this cycle is all about movement quality, slowing things down, and accumulating time under tension.  (Keep reading, I’ll explain it in terms of increasing your sexiness later). The use of tempo is really the only way to facilitate that. As anyone that was here this week knows, squats at 3211 tempo are pretty brutal. If I just said, slow on the way down and pause for 2 seconds at the bottom, I’m not entirely sure what we’d get.

Some things to know and accept:

– you will not be using the weight you normally can for the sets you used to, a set of 8 at your own pace vs 3211 is a totally different animal, so don’t be afraid to drop weight
– stick to the tempo, no matter how much it sucks or what you have to modify your weights to. It’s often said that the thing you hate the most is probably a good thing to be working on. This is one of those cases. Not sticking to the prescription will change the entire effect of this cycle.
– It’s hard to count. Yeah, I know, counting on the way down, counting at the bottom, counting on the way up and counting at the top is hard when you are also counting your reps. I struggle with it too if it makes you feel any better.
– You will be tired and hungry, this is your body repairing itself after accumulating a significant volume of work. Listen to your body, give it rest and high quality food to facilitate repair. (More on that below)


Why you should fall in love with this training:

– this will allow you some major improvements in strength and prevent complications down the line. We’re developing a great, solid base for you to build off of. Slowing things down allows us to examine every single part of your rep, and helps us coaches take a look at where you need help or refinement. Hammering out a quick set means that we’re usually just seeing a flash of your set from across the room before we try and run over to fix what we might have seen. I’ve already seen and helped countless long time members with squat mechanics and deadlift form that have been here for quite a while now, and my eye has missed until now. It allows you the same opportunity. While you’re moving slower, you can assess how things feel and make sure the correct muscles are firing.

Do it like this.

Do it like this.

– for those of you who don’t have pull-ups or need work to develop more and bigger sets of pull-ups, the slow eccentric work that we are doing will develop strength through a range of motion that you aren’t able to expose through the use of regular reps or banded pull-ups
– you will develop more muscle fibers. No, you aren’t going to turn into some she-hulk, but you will accumulate more and larger muscle fibers. This is a good thing, and it allows us to develop those fibers into stronger and more efficient fibers later.  If you’re interested, our training year goes like this: Build base- strengthen base- utilize that strength in a speed setting- use all that speed with strength in reserve.
– you will burn a shit ton of fat and calories. As I wrote to a lot of you in our private group the other day, accumulating a lot time under tension does a lot of the “damage” we want to do in the muscle. (That’s how muscle develops, you damage it, then it repairs and adapts stronger). The body expends a ton of energy to repair this damage. This means that the body needs a ton of fuel to supply this energy. That energy can come from a few different places, and will depend a lot on your goals and self control. Most of you have been commenting about an intense hunger, and that you can’t seem to stop eating. That’s because your body is doing repair. Here’s where it gets a little tricky and is going to rely on you to determine whether or not you hulk out or get shredded:
           – If you don’t mind some muscle growth, and you want to maintain your body composition, you can definitely eat more and when your body tells you to eat, you should eat. But those sources of food should be mostly high quality protein. Generally speaking, protein doesn’t convert to fat, and it is made up of the building blocks that are used for repairing cell damage that are broken down when consumed. This means that you eat protein, it gets broken down and shuttled where it needs to go in the body. Eating carbs doesn’t facilitate the same thing.  Carbs can be used for energy, but if you don’t expend that energy, it will get stored in the body as fat. So if you’re hungry, and you want to put on lean muscle instead of fat, snack on and increase your protein intake.
           – If you want to stay the same size, but burn the fat that you’ve got stored on your body, you should continue to eat the same amount of food that you’ve been eating. Assuming you keep your calorie intake the same, protein is certainly the preferred source of fuel, for the reasons listed in the above paragraph, but if you eat the same and your body needs more fuel than it is consuming through food, guess where it comes from? The fat stored all over your body. That fat is broken down and released as energy. Hooray!
– You will develop and strengthen connective tissue. Accumulating time under tension will cause your muscles and connective tissue to get stronger and be more capable to control the heavier loads we’ll put on them later in the year.

That’s all for now, hopefully that answered some questions. If you still aren’t excited about this phase of training, don’t worry, the really bad stuff will be over sooner than you think. If you love it, and all of these things sound aewsome, you’re right, and we’ll continue to touch on these things later throughout the year, but not with quite as much emphasis as we are now.