I need some guidelines for tempo training to use with my clients. I am trying to find out the different times needed for effects such as toning, fat loss, hypertrophy, endurance, etc (all of the commonly requested training goals). I have heard about working with eccentric-static-concentric timing and with eccentric-static-concentric-static training. Can someone please clarify the recommended timings to use for each phase for each training style?
The question is does tempo matter? Well, for me, it certainly does. “Train slow, be slow!” was once said to me, and like most important pieces of wisdom, this little nugget came in a small but profound package.
For a start, I am sure we have all seen some pretty good looking people lifting some very heavy weights and badly by fitness industry standards. You know the type, wildly swinging and racing through reps like there is no tomorrow. Although we must always advocate good lifting technique in terms of bodily movements, this presents us with a head scratching situation. These people are getting results doing what we are told not to do, especially in the area of tempo, so there must be more than the prescribed ways to create overload stimulus to gain muscular and morphological adaptation in the body.
Why then have we accepted and taken for granted set tempo ranges for fat loss, hypertrophy and endurance as being the only tempos to use to get a desired response? And if we don’t use these tempos, will we still be able to grow our muscles and lose fat? Given the examples around us all the time, these tempos can’t represent the only way to create bodily adaptation, and along with an isolation approach to training, they have probably grown out of the world of bodybuilding, which for most people is an unreal and unobtainable goal. The industry standard tempos set down for hypertrophy and fat loss/endurance take the format of 0 (static hold), 2 (eccentric load), 0 (static hold), 2 (concentric unload). Or more simply 2 seconds on the way down, 2 on the way up, with no holds. We then adjust the weight to allow us to fit into the rep range of eight to 12 for hypertrophy, giving us between 24 and 48 seconds of time under tension. For fat loss or muscular endurance, we use between 12 and 25 reps and adjust the weight accordingly to allow us to do this, giving more time under less tension to create the desired fat loss/endurance response.
Let’s take a look at the hypertrophy tempo range, for example. Have you ever tried using a 0-2-0-2 tempo range? It feels very unnatural, to say the least. Try moving a fairly heavy weight slowly, and see how effective you are. When was the last time you saw an Olympic lifter moving in slow motion? By rights, those guys should be pretty skinny with their fast tempos and small rep ranges, but we can see they are not. If we unnaturally slow the concentric part of the action, we lose our explosive power. If we slow the eccentric part of the action, we lose our explosive power. This is down to the relationship between eccentric load and concentric unload. Newton tells us that everything has an opposite and equal reaction. Therefore, faster load equals faster unload. The upshot is more force generated and more muscular overload created. When our muscles get overloaded, they have to adapt to the imposed forces upon them. This will take the form of neurological adaptation such as increased proprioceptive stimulation and response and also hypertrophied muscles. As an example, look at the legs of a cyclist. The large muscular adaptation has not been due to abnormally slow squats but the adaptation to the imposed demand of overcoming resistance with force generated by the legs, using a fast cadence, to power the bike.
If we take the 0-2-0-2 approach to tempo, we also negate any functional crossover from our training. When we need to be strong, will our muscles be there for us? Can they generate the power we need? In a real world situation (e.g. sports), will our muscles be able to respond quickly and generate the force and power that speed and acceleration bring after this type of training? In my experience, the answer is no. Our tempos should mirror our function. Using faster tempo s, such as 0-1-0-1, will not only be more natural but will also give us larger muscular loads and proprioceptive stimulation to increase functional muscular adaptations, including hypertrophy and the ability to produce force.
When we look at fat loss, a classic tempo approach would dictate more reps at a similar tempo, 0-2-0-2, usually 15-25 reps. This then increases overall set time and decreases the weight and tension level, which according to classic teaching equals more calories burned during a given set of exercise. This goes against a muscle size adaptation approach to fat loss, which tells us an increased muscular size and muscle-to-fat ratio will increase basal metabolic rate and therefore demand more calories before and after exercise, not just during. We must look back at muscular overload to increase adaptation. Using faster tempos such as 0-1-0-1 and larger weights will give us the muscular overload and body composition adaptations that come with it.
Remember, tension is as important as tempo and is also affected by tempo. Tension is increased by weight, joint angle and deceleration and acceleration, so by fast three dimensional full body movements, we can create more overall muscular tension and load. In contrast, slower unnatural tempos, longer time under tension periods and isolative singular plane movements may actually decrease tension and functional muscular adaptation, so instead of adding to muscular overload, we are reducing it!! “Train fast, be fast!” and your body will adapt accordingly.