How You Can Make Use of Tempo
Tempo and I have been hot and cold, like that Katy Perry song, since I was first introduced to it in my first summer as an intern at Peak Performance. During that summer, our training group used tempo on most movements. As a new lifter, using tempo helped me learn movement patters and how to control them. That is a quality any lifter of any training age can benefit from.
Tempo and I got all hot and steamy again last summer. After a few months of primarily explosive, high performance training, I was neurologically fried and I looked like the Michelin Man in an under armor t-shirt. It was nothing to be proud of. Then a trainer friend of mine, Dan Trink, introduced me to a training protocol called German Body Composition Training (GBC).
GBC combines tempo with high reps, big lifts, unilateral lifts, isolation lifts, and short rest periods. It’s basically a road map to ripped town. Although, it is not a program I would immediately prescribe to everyone. There are programming principles though, which I believe everyone should be familiar in order to benefit as much as possible from incorporating tempo into a training routine.
Use a slower tempo, higher reps, and fewer sets
Combining a tempo of about 4-6 seconds per rep, with a set of 10-12 reps for bilateral movements and 8-10 reps for unilateral movements, will extend each set and reach the Time Under Tension range necessary to force metabolic adaptations.
The longer Time Under Tension will deplete the muscle of its energy stores. That depletion causes a metabolic disturbance as the body tries to replenish those stores after your workout. That metabolic shake-up will promote great body compositional changes.
To achieve all of that metabolic goodness you will only need 3-4 sets when done right (proper weight, strict tempo, just enough rest). Going over that will probably tax your muscular and nervous system more than you can recover from. Going under 3 sets will probably not allow enough exposure to the stimulus to promote adaptation.
Attack the 3-4 sets and make it happen.
Start using tempo with smaller and machine based lifts
If you are not used to lowering a barbell or dumbbells very slowly during a big lift, it can be daunting. Start your introduction to tempo using lifts like bicep curls, triceps extensions, lat pulldowns, and machine chest presses.
You will get the same benefits of tempo training without risking getting pinned under a bar or having dumbbells crash down on you because of fatigue. Also, the pump that you will get from tempo arm training is freakin’ sweet!
Use tempo with unilateral (single side) lifts
Unilateral lifts by themselves, without any tempo manipulation, take twice as long as their bilateral counterparts. Performing unilateral lifts with a slower tempo will increase the Time Under Tension, and the metabolic demand even more.
Slow tempo unilateral lifts are also slightly safer than large compound exercise, so they are perfect for intermediate lifters slightly familiar with tempo. Some of my favorite unilateral lifts to use tempo with are:
- Single Arm Shoulder Press
- One Arm Dumbbell Row
- Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
- Bulgarian Split Squats
- Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts
- Single Leg Hamstring Curls
- Single Leg Press
- Single Arm Cable Row
Try placing some slow tempo unilateral lifts in the middle or later in your program to get the most out of them.
Use tempo with large compound lifts (and a training partner)
Performing high rep compound lifts is one of the best ways to improve body composition inside of a gym. Adding a slower tempo will make those same lifts even more effective. The only catch is they are mentally daunting and pose a slightly increased risk of injury than smaller lifts.
I highly recommend using tempo with big lifts such as, back squats, bench press, and pull-ups, that is if you have the ability to handle them and a training partner/spotter to help you through the set.
When it comes to compound lifts, trying to perform the movement while also counting tempo is a recipe for poor performance. A training partner lets you throw caution to the wind and stick to the prescribed tempo.
Recover with sleep, a clean diet, and soft tissue work
Increased amounts of stress require an increased amount and quality of recovery. When first using tempo shoot for at least 7-9 sleep, a whole food diet high in good fats and quality protein, and a good amount of foam rolling, dynamic warm ups. All of those things will allow you to stay in optimal condition to perform during your training session and get the most positive adaptation from your program.
Now it’s Time For Tempo
Start thinking about using the above ideas with your current program if you are in need of some body composition changes or just like to make things challenging. Also, keep on the look out for some sample tempo workouts posted on the blog.