So you finally know the difference between a muscle clean, a hang power clean and a squat clean, and you think you’ve sorted out the difference between a 35 and 45 lb. bar, and you’re expected to know what a back squat at a @3131 tempo means??
Our expectations of you are so high, aren’t they?!!
Since the key to remembering new information is understanding the concept, before I explain what @3131 or @40X0 means, let’s talk about WHY tempo work is helpful for your fitness development.
Be it tempo back squats, front squats, split squats, or tempo pull-ups, ring rows, or single-arm presses, there are many reasons to include tempo work in your training program. Five of these reasons are:
- Improve Movement Patterns
Because tempo work forces you to slow things down, it allows you to focus on and reiterate perfect mechanics. Slowing a movement down allows you to really feel each part of the movement, ultimately helping you move better and more consistently. On a similar note, tempo work is a great way to address and fix any positional weaknesses in any given movement. Going slow also allows us to correct muscular imbalances, especially those developed from repetitive movement patterns like mountain or road biking, skiing and snowboarding, and even golfing and baseball.
- Improve Strength
Tempo work means you’ll be spending more time under tension, which is a key component in building strength. Typically the slow segment is the eccentric movement, or 'lowering phase'. Forcing a slow eccentric makes your muscles stronger and keeps your joints safer as your body learns to be strong to resist forces.
Tempo work adds variety to your training by giving your body a new stimulus—another key to helping you continuously make improvements. I hear every single time when tempo is prescribed "Man that makes it harder!" And that's the point!
- Protects and preserves your nervous system
Tempo work allows you to basically get more bang for your buck. When you lift weight at percentages that are close to your maximum strength, you put a big strain on your central nervous system (CNS) - which is why we rarely 'max out'. So tempo work allows you to work at lower percentages, but the more time under tension means you’ll still get the benefits of a heavier load but without frying your CNS.
- Recovery and Joint Health
In short, because it puts less strain on your nervous system, your recovery will be faster so you’ll be able to train more. Tempo training prescribed with a slow-controlled eccentric phase is also a proven method for recovering from Tendonitis
OK, now let’s figure out how to read a prescribed tempo
First, you need to understand the difference between the concentric and eccentric portions of a movement.
The eccentric portion of the movement is the “lowering” part of any movement. During this portion of the movement, the muscles lengthen while producing force. During a squat, it’s when you descend into the squat, and during a pull-up it’s when you're lowering your body from the bar.
The concentric portion of the movement is when the muscle contracts and shortens. While this isn’t the scientific way to describe it, it’s essentially the “working part” of the movement. During a squat, it’s when you’re squeezing everything to stand back up, and during a pull-up it’s when you’re pulling yourself up towards the bar.
The two other pieces of the puzzle to understand tempo are the top and the bottom positions. Real simple, the bottom of a squat is when you are, well, at the bottom of the squat, and the top position is when you’re fully standing up. The bottom of a pull-up is where you’re at a deadhang position with straight arms, and the top is when you have your chin over the bar.
OK, now that we have that sorted out….
The first number of the tempo prescription is always the eccentric portion of the movement. The second number is the bottom position, the third number is the concentric portion of the movement, and the fourth is the top position.
Therefore @3131 means:
Eccentric: 3 (seconds)
Bottom: 1 (second)
Concentric: 3 (seconds)
Top: 1 (second)
Consider a tempo of @3131 for a back squat: This means we want you to take 3 seconds to descend into a squat (eccentric). Then we want you to hold for 1 second at the bottom, followed by 3 seconds to stand up (concentric), and finally 1 second to pause at the top.
In a pull-up, this means, this tempo means 3 seconds to slowly lower, 1 second to hang out at the bottom in the deadhang hold position, 3 seconds to pull your chin to the bar, and then 1 second to hold with your chin over the bar.
Make sense, right?
Ok, what if the tempo is @33X1?
The 'X' means 'explosive', or as fast as you can. So in a squat, it means 3 seconds to lower, 3 to hold at the bottom and then explode back up aggressively as fast as possible, and then 1 second to pause at the top. Now just because we say explosive and fast, doesn't necessarily mean that you will actually be moving quickly. It is about the intent of the movement and trains that movement pattern so you have more power as the weights get heavier. Performing the concentric phase of a squat explosively and quickly will considerably improve your ability to perform cleans and snatches, as well as simple tasks like jumping!
So, now you know!