Timing is everything. One of the most overlooked training fundamentals is tempo, which is essentially the speed we use to perform movements during an exercise.
Powerful, explosive contractions are proven to build muscle. Want some proof? Compare a sprinter’s body to a marathon runner’s body.
More proof? Ok, think about the explosive power needed to perform gymnastic movements, then have a look at the physique of elite level gymnasts…
Still need more proof? I didn’t think so.
It’s clear that explosive contractions lead to muscle gain, but there is another component to tempo that can be just as effective at signalling muscle growth, and that is SLOW eccentric contractions. Also known as negative training.
Today I’ll cover the basics to explain how you can use Tempo to combine both explosive power and controlled negative contractions to a set of any exercise, which will produce major gains in your pursuit for better body or improved performance.
Just to make sure that we’re on the same page, here’s a reminder of the three types of muscle contractions:
Ok, now let’s talk tempo.
There are four numbers that constitute the tempo of any exercise. Here’s a classic example, and I’m sure that most of us have been completing the majority of our exercises with this exact tempo for a long time (too long):
The first number, 2, is the eccentric (lowering) component of the lift.
The second number, 0, denotes any pause at the midpoint.
The third number, 1, is the concentric (lifting) component.
Finally, the fourth number, 0, denotes any pause at the top.
For those of you who have been lifting weights using the same basic tempo for a long time, I want you to start a new tempo protocol this week. This means making a change to the tempo of every exercise that you perform in all of your daily workouts. It’s different, it’s weird at first, but it works.
Here’s the tempo that I want you to experiment with:
The X stands for EXPLODE, meaning that you lift, push or pull the weight with maximal effort. For bodyweight exercises, it simply means slowing down the negative portion of your movement, then exploding on your concentric. *Picture yourself slowly squatting down for 3 seconds, then exploding into the upright position.
For weights, let’s use the barbell bicep curl as an example. We all do it, we all love it, and we all have probably been doing it at the same tempo for years. Now it’s time to change it up.
- Standing in your usual bicep curl position, with your arms extended straight, hands resting on your thighs, you are ready for an explosive concentric contraction.
- Your tempo count starts after your first curl, where you will do a controlled 3 second negative (eccentric contraction)
- Once you approach the extended start position, with 0 pause at the bottom, you eXplosively contract and lift the weight to the flexed top position, where you will squeeze, never letting go of the tension, for 2 seconds.
- Repeat 8-10 times, or until you can no longer maintain this tempo with control. It’s very important that once you are unable to lower the weight as slowly as your tempo prescribes (3 seconds in our case), it’s time to stop the set.
I recommend that you try to visualize your muscles as a brake system, helping you to decelerate the resistance of your movements during the 3 second eccentric phase of your exercise.
***Eccentric training will make you very sore, so be sure to allow yourself adequate recovery time between workouts.
Now, I want to make something clear as we go forward. The tempo protocol 3-0-X-2 is not magic. It’s not even a complete protocol. It’s not right or wrong, or good or bad- it’s just different. It’s a change to what you have been doing, and it’s proven to be effective. It WILL work for you. But, like everything else in fitness, your body will soon get used to it, and then it will be time for a change again. Get it?
Change it up!
Always, always change it up.
For experienced lifters, you can start with this 3-0-X-2 tempo protocol for 2-3 weeks, then you can progress to 4 or even 6-0-X-2 for a few weeks, and then you can even do fast eccentric contraction training and reverse the entire protocol.
Now it’s time for your exercise challenge of the week.
*Note* I’m hoping that you experimented with the 1 arm overhead squat last week, and I hope that it’s working out for you. It’s difficult but I promise that if you stick with it, adding it to 2 workouts a week (6 sets total per week) will provide great results and will prepare you for even more challenging movements. But, do not implement a slow negative tempo routine to this particular exercise, as your body is only getting used to it… in several weeks, you can play around with tempo for the 1 arm overhead squat, but for now, do it at whatever tempo you feel most confident with. The same goes for this weeks challenge, which is:
Dragon walks are a killer full body workout, perfect for high intensity circuit training or resistance training workout. I personally do them on chest/back day, then again on leg day as I find it a good flexibility/range of motion warm up.
I suggest you do it for about 20-30 seconds per set, 3 sets.
If you are not strong enough to do these dragon walks, then your challenge is to add more body weight exercises to your program, replacing isolated exercises (like cable tricep pushdowns) with dips or close grip pushups. And, no matter who is reading this, your current program should include pullups (assisted machine for some, unassisted for others, and weighted for the advanced lifters) as well as a variation of pushups or dips. If you don’t have these exercises included in your program, start this week by replacing one exercise where you use a machine, with one of these bodyweight exercises.
The above is a quick clip of someone doing dragon walks, with good form, so check it out! Practice at home while referring to the clip, then add it to your workouts in the gym.
Start the week right with a good workout sometime today, and play around with the 3-0-X-2 tempo protocol that I just explained. Push ups, pullups, bench press, shoulder raises, whatever the exercise, you can enhance its effectiveness by changing the tempo to involve both explosive power and a slow controlled negative. Try it today!
And be a good friend. Share this article with anyone that you know who is interested in a more effective workout.