Next week's programming features the use of tempo during the strength work.

Tempo prescriptions come in a series of four numbers representing the times it should take to complete four stages of the lift.  In a workout, the tempo prescription will follow the assigned number of reps, such as:

Back Squat 4 x 6-8 reps @ 30X1

The First Number – The first number refers to the lowering (eccentric) phase of the lift.  Using our back squat example from Monday's class the 3 will represent the amount of time (in seconds) that it should take you to descend to the bottom of the squat.  (The first number always refers to the lowering/eccentric phase, even if the movement begins with the ascending/concentric phase, such as in a pull-up.)

The Second Number – The second number refers to the amount of time spent in the bottom position of the lift – the point in which the lift transitions from lowering to ascending.  In our  squat example, the prescribed 0 means that the athlete should reach the bottom position and immediately begin their ascent.  If, however, the prescription was 32X0, the athlete would be expected to pause for 2 seconds at the bottom position.

The Third Number – The third number refers to ascending (concentric) phase of the lift – the amount of time it takes you to get to the top of the lift.   X clearly is not a number, the X signifies that the athlete should EXPLODE the weight up as quickly as possible.  With a heavy weight this will often not be very fast, but it is the intent that counts – try to accelerate the weight as fast as you can.  If the third number is a 2, it should take the athlete 2 seconds to get the lift to the top regardless of whether they are capable of moving it faster.

The Fourth Number – The fourth number refers to how long you should pause at the top of the lift.  Take, for example, a weighted pull-up prescription of 20X2, the athlete would be expected to hold his or her chin over the bar for two seconds before beginning to come down.

Consistency when counting is obviously important, yet seems to vary wildly form athlete to athlete.  Use the clock to keep you honest and adjust the weight as necessary. 


Why Tempo Training ?

Improved Quality of Movement

Quality of movement should be your first priority.  The CrossFit mantra is Mechanics - Consistency-Intensity, something that is often forgotten when athletes push themselves to go harder and faster, sadly at the expense of good form.  So bear in mind that intensity comes only after one can consistently demonstrate the proper mechanics of a movement.  Tempo prescriptions can help athletes develop awareness and body control by giving them an opportunity to “feel” which muscle groups are activating to keep them in proper positions.

Using our squat example again our goal should not simply be to lift the weight but to do so in a safe and effective manner.  The movement standard may be for the hip crease to pass below the level of the top of the knee but imagine if we were to just collapse into the bottom of the squat hoping to bounce back out.  The knees may well collapse inwards, chest fall forward and the pelvis roll causing "butt wink".  By requiring a set tempo, particularly one with a slow lowering phase we force the athlete to hold a good position, giving them time to focus on a neutral position in the lumbar spine, chest up and knees out. If these positions can't be held for the prescribed tempo we know the load is too great.

So for our newer athletes there is the opportunity to learn and practice correct form and in more experienced athletes tempo can be used to identify problem areas and strengthen any weak links in technique.  For example, if you struggle in the bottom position of an overhead squat, a prescription forcing you to spend some time in that position will help solidify your technique, create more comfort in that weak position, and permit greater improvements in future.

Reduced Risk of Injury

Improving the quality of the movement obviously helps to reduce the risk of injury for athletes.  But in addition, slowing down the tempo of lifts can ease the stress placed on joints and shift that additional stress to the muscles powering the lift.  More stress on the muscles and less on the joints is a good thing.  Muscles are far better at adapting to increased loads.  Connective tissue typically takes longer to strengthen and adapt to the increasing loads, so by slowing down the tempo you can give your connective tissue some rest while still strengthening the surrounding musculature.

Improved Strength Gains

Different tempo prescriptions permit greater training variety and stimulus.  This means fewer plateaus and more adaptation. They also allow us to overcome weak links by focusing on certain areas of movements.  We've talked about the overhead squat but think too about how your deadlift feels when performed slowly rather than allowing the plates to bounce on a rubber floor.   If your tempo prescription called for a slow descent and a longer pause at the bottom, you would have to get stronger through your weak points. Time under tension is another factor in strength training, by using a tempo prescription we can increase the time spent under load but often at a lighter weight - picture a 3s pause at the bottom of a squat.  By reducing the weight we can lessen the impact on our central nervous system but still get stronger, particularly important for CrossFit athletes who often train consistently at high intensity.