Why Tempo Training?
The past few weeks at CrossFit Limestone, and previously in the past, we have added tempo reps into our training. Specifically front squats most recently. Lately we have seen a 5 second decent (eccentric), a 5 second pause (isometric) with a fast ascent (concentric). In this post we are going to delve a bit into why we program tempo reps.
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. Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned athlete, one of the best ways to increase strength while avoiding injury is to consistently maintain proper movement mechanics. When rushing a movement such as a squat, you’re less likely to pay attention to several key points like properly hinging from the hips, midline stability, proper tracking of the knees, etc. Disregarding these key points looks a lot like crashing down with a rounded back, harsh flexion of the knees showing little to no control, and the infamous “butt wink.” (Opex, 2015) 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 likely too heavy.
For our newer athletes this gives an opportunity to learn and practice correct form, and in more experienced athletes tempo squats can be used to identify problem areas and strengthen any weak links in technique. For example, if you struggle in the bottom position of a front squat, a tempo 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 the coming 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 much 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 potentially more adaptation. They also allow us to overcome weak positions by focusing on certain areas of movements. 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 5-second 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. Often times in CrossFit, especially if there is a weightlifting focus in the programming, we miss the eccentric part of the movement by catching the barbell in the bottom of the squat. During the eccentric portion of the movement, the muscles lengthen while producing force, which is an important piece for muscle development. By adding a tempo we can ensure that we hit this part of the movement. Pausing at the bottom also promotes force development by discouraging bouncing out of the bottom of the squat, and forcing the athlete to start from “nothing”.
Adding tempo work to training is also an effective way to work on progression. As we have done the past few weeks at Limestone: by reducing the number of tempo reps, we are hoping to increase the load each week, and thus progress to lifting heavier weights within the few weeks of the tempo progression.