Slow the tempo, increase the gain!
Slow down! No, I’m not talking about your hustle and bustle lifestyle that can sometimes seem like a whirlwind, but yes slow that down too. I’m talking about your movement in the gym when you are training your body. As we venture into the general fitness scene today we see that intensity is highly sought after and with good reason. However, I’m here today to bring your attention to the value of tempo training (slowing down) and why it could be what you are missing in your training not just for the gains but your overall joint health as well.
Tempo training is the art of slowing movement down. You can do it with any movement and is most commonly done when going through eccentric contractions or the static holds in a lift. But you shouldn’t feel limited to that, even the “up” phase or concentric contraction of any lift can too be turned into a specific tempo. The value of this whole approach is that it can strengthen connective tissue and also put a new kind of stress on your muscles vs. just moving at the same tempo each rep. To speak more generally, there are gains that you aren’t getting if you aren’t applying slow, focused deliberate tempo to some of your lifts every now and again.
Contrary to most people’s beliefs about body building, they don’t just do slow and controlled contractions. But it is in fact important to add this into their programming especially when trying to sculpt and shape specific muscles. Athletes with the ability to lift large loads don’t train them slowly in order to do that, they do the lift at a fast speed in order to create the force needed to move the object. As you build speed and strength and the loads you can lift increase, it is always a good idea to add in phases of “tempo work” with lighter loads. These tempo’s can range from :10 to get from the lockout of a bench press to the bar touching your chest, then pause for :5 with the bar on your chest, then take another :10 to reach lockout from your chest up. Can you imagine doing sets of 5-12 like that? Ouch! The burn would be ridiculous. When you consider applying this methodology to more total body lifts like the Back Squat, Front Squat, Deadlift, Standing Overhead Press then the stimulus is even more potent because of the overall body fatigue that accumulates. That tempo is only an example and is certainly on the “long” side of tempo work. A more common example would be :4 down, :2 pause, :4 up. When you think about doing tempo work the goal should be to lighten the load, move with perfect form and intention and also to create variance across your tempo’s as you build them out week to week.
Working with lighter weights doesn’t seem appealing to someone looking to pack on size and strength, but it is valuable. These momentary breaks from the heavy loads and maximal stress are what will help you stay in the “game” for the long haul by keeping your body/joints healthy. But it literally changes your muscles. Hypertrophy isn’t simply achieved from loading the bar with heavy weights and moving fast (although it is the most efficient way). Tempo training and slowing down allows the body to be exposed to more “time under tension”. The longer the body has to withstand a load the more metabolic stress it is under, this too is a form of hypertrophy training and bigger, stronger and more dense muscles can be a result!
Lastly, if you are in pain and the more you warm up the better you feel, then you likely need some slower work. If your knees, elbows, shoulders are achy all day but when you train they feel good then tempo work can help you feel better and heal up. We often get inflammation and arthritic type symptoms from constantly loading our body under heavy weight with fast contractions. Take some of the movements you’ve been doing, slow them down, lighten the weight and see it through for about 2-4 weeks. It will be worth it in the long haul, especially when you start to feel better in your day to day life. I also suggest you double up your normal Renew consumption as it will help combat that local inflammation happening in your joints. If you don’t know what I’m referring to Renew is our Krill oil, I take it daily to help me feel, heal and recover better.
Step back, take a look at your training. Do you use tempo’s often? Have you EVER used them? And if not, consider adding them into your next session and do it consistently. Do different tempo’s each week or each month to create variance, it will strengthen new positions and improve your movement quality. The point is that in the gym, just like in life, sometimes we simply need to pause or slow down!