Tempo Training is a topic we haven’t covered in a while. We’ve had some new members join, and our online presence has grown quite a bit recently. It’s a good idea to revisit the concept, why it’s beneficial, and why it has been a core tenet of our programming here at CrossFit Webster.
‘What is Tempo Training?’
Simply put, Tempo Training is weightlifting with a twist. The idea is to build strength and capacity by slowing down a movement, which results in more time under tension.
Time Under Tension = ‘Gainz’
As you might know by now, at CrossFit Webster we’ve put an emphasis on being mindful about your body and fitness. The goal has been to develop sustainable training practices in effort to keep you fit well into old age. Tempo Training is a perfect fit for this. Slowing down a movement forces you to keep the load on the barbell (or dumbbell) lower than you would with regular training. The potential for side effects (injury, impingements, strain on joints) is lowered simply because we’re not loading the bar with as much weight as we can every day.
As a refresher, here is an example of how tempos are written:
“Back Squat, 5×3 @ 32X1 Tempo”
Tempo is always (ALWAYS) listed as “down-bottom-up-top.” So here, we read this as:
3 seconds down (eccentric phase)
2 second pause at bottom
eXplode up (concentric phase)
1 second pause at the top
When the rep starts at the top, this is straight forward. Let’s look at an example where some confusion could arise.
“Strict Pull-ups: 3×5 @ 20X1 Tempo”
A pull-up rep technically starts at the bottom (as the name suggests, you start on the ground and you pull yourself up to the bar). So how do we read this? The tempo is still listed as “down-bottom-up-top” so if you’re starting a rep, it would go like this:
1 second pause at the top
2 seconds down
0 second pause at the bottom
Hopefully this makes sense, and we’ll cover it again in the future to get everyone comfortable with it. If it doesn’t make sense yet, I promise it will.
There are a few reasons why I think Tempo training is important:
1) Building solid movement patterns
2) Building muscle and strength
3) Correcting Muscle Contraction imbalances
Building Solid Movement Patterns
You probably know what bad movement patterns look like. I’m sure you’ve got an image queued up in your head right now – a rounded back on a deadlift, knees caving in on a squat, a ‘chicken wing’ on a Bar Muscle Up. There are too many examples to list them all. Many of us struggle with mobility, strength imbalances, or both. As a coach and programmer, utilizing Tempo Training allows me to ensure that our athletes are slowing down their movements and building comfort and strength in the right positions. As an athlete, I’ve spent so much time in those positions that I can recognize when my movement patterns are out of whack and make corrections as I go. I cannot emphasize how important this has been in overcoming preexisting conditions and avoiding nagging injuries. I struggled with back pain for years. With an increased focus on building positional strength I’ve been able to train repeatedly and have had very few setbacks. Tempo training has made me stronger, more mobile, and healthier. I’m positive you could talk to any of our members and hear something similar.
Building Muscle and Strength
The benefit here is obvious. Tempo Training is weightlifting. Weightlifting builds muscle. Spending time under tension is where Tempo Training separates itself in comparison to normal weightlifting. The muscles are working for longer, and it makes sense that this would lead to increased strength development. ‘Hypertrophy’ is a term that is used often in the fitness space. Hypertrophy refers to the enlargement of an organ or tissue due to the increase in size of its cells. In strength training, Hypertrophy refers to the thickening of muscle fibers that occurs when the body has been stressed just the right amount to indicate that it must create larger, stronger muscles that can tolerate this new, increased load. While researching for this post, I found that studies linking tempo training to hypertrophy show mixed results. There are people in the fitness industry that I admire that believe firmly in the correlation of the two. I will point to the evidence found in our gym over these last seven months. During our last Front Squat cycle, over half of the members of the gym set a new Personal Record when testing a one rep max – including several who’ve been training for years.
Correcting Muscle Contraction Imbalances
What is your all-time favorite CrossFit workout? Is it Fran? Is it Amanda? Is it Diane? Whatever the workout, chances are it heavily taxes the concentric phase (the “up” phase) of muscle contraction. Take ‘Fran’ for example:
Thrusters, Pullups. Woof. In a thruster, you squat down, and stand up to press the barbell up over your head. In a pullup, you’re pulling your body up toward the bar, and finishing the repetition when your head is over pullup bar. It’s pushing, it’s pulling, and in each case, you’re working ‘against gravity’ to move the load. This is the reality of most CrossFit workouts. We do not spend enough time building capacity in the eccentric phase (working with gravity) of the movement. This creates an imbalance that overtime could lead to injury or burnout. Supplementing traditional CrossFit work with a Tempo Back Squat, with a 3 second eccentric phase helps us to develop a more well-rounded muscle contraction.
There is no absolute right or wrong when it comes to training philosophy. At CrossFit Webster, we’ve committed to providing the tools and knowledge necessary to build a foundation of strength, discover a passion for fitness, and develop a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. Tempo training is a key to development of quality movement patterns and has helped our members in making strength gains while avoiding injury and overtraining.