Thursday, January 25, 2007

So What's the Deal With Tempo?

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the word tempo when it comes to training.


But why?

I searched every dictionary I could find and there is no definition that remotely resembles what most people think it means when it applies to weight training. It is basically the speed at which a piece of music should be played.

Who ever decided to apply that to training must have had some kind of imagination. The correct terminology is rep speed and from now on will be known as such.

Anyway, to answer the question, here's the deal with tempo/ rep speed; it sucks.

Well, kind of. But usually.

First of all, changing your rep speed on a regular basis is a way to ensure that you never really know if you are making progress or not. This is actually a great trick that some trainers use. They don't know how to get their clients stronger so they just change the rep speed There is no way their clients will ever catch on to this ingenious little scheme. In January you are benching with a rep speed of 505 and then in March, a 402 rep speed, come June it's 323, etc, etc. But how do you know if you are ever getting stronger? It's just like using way too many exercises (bench, incline bench, 1 board, 2 board, 3 board, 4 board, 5 board, all of those with bands, chains, weight releasers, fat bars or any combo of those) because there is just too much variety to keep track of. There are certain variables that need to remain constant in any experiment, and that's what your training basically is; an experiment. You are always testing what you are doing and you need to see if it's working, ie. you are getting stronger. If your bench goes up, is it because your rep speed was different or did you really get stronger? You never know.

That is one of the major reasons why "tempo" sucks.

Anytime you see a routine written with a slow concentric, meaning the lifting portion of the exercise, get up and walk away; it's shit. You should never, ever lift a weight slowly if you are trying to get big and strong. It makes no sense.

The rare case when this could be of benefit would be during rehab situations. Other than that, it's crap.

What about lowering the weight slowly? Well, this is where it gets hairy. You see, there actually is a ton of evidence and research showing that controlling and even stressing the eccentric portion of the movement leads to hypertrophy gains.

There are also about ninety six cajillion guys in the history of the planet that have gotten enormously bigger and stronger without ever worrying about that. (See Arnold and the entire cast of Pumping Iron, the entire WWF, IFBB, NFL and just about every other big guy you have ever seen at the gym).

So what about it? What's the answer there?

Despite all the people who successfully ignored this advice, I still think you should always control the eccentric portion of every exercise you do, never drop the weight. I would say a strict two seconds would be great and if you wanted stretch it to three, that would be okay too. But anything more than that is unnecessary. Eight second negatives are a bit ridiculous if you ask me. Control the descent and explode up, it's as simple as that.

What about pausing? Pausing is ok, especially in exercises where an extreme stretch can help you grow. Any kind of calf raise is a perfect example of this. You should almost always pause and get a skin ripping stretch at the bottom of a calf raise.

Too much variety and a lack of consistency is actually a huge problem in most peoples training programs. Using every rep speed you can possibly make up, just makes the problem worse. Stick to a controlled two or three second negative and explode the weight up. Sometimes you can pause in the bottom if there is a good reason and sometimes you can do a slower negative at the end of a set from time to time. But for the most part, keep it simple.

And remember tempo= music; it's rep speed.