Next week's programming features the use of tempo squats during our 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 and the tempo prescription, such as: 5 x 5 Tempo Squat (4221)
The First Number – The first number refers to the lowering (eccentric) phase of the lift. Using the above (4221) which will be the focus for the week of June 12th, the “4” will represent the amount of time (in seconds) that it should take you to descend to the bottom of the squat. (When performing tempo squats, the first number always refers to the lowering/eccentric phase).
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 tempo scheme for the week, the prescribed “2” means that the athlete should reach the bottom position and 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. Since the third number is a “2,” it should take the athlete 2 seconds to get the lift to the top regardless of whether they can move it faster.
The Fourth Number – The fourth number refers to how long you should pause at the top of the lift. Most times, we will pause for just 1 second at the top before beginning the next rep.
Consistency when counting is obviously important, yet seems to vary wildly form athlete to athlete. So, we will use a timer on our screen 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 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 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. 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 3-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.
This article was adapted from http://www.crossfit-bold.com/coachs-blog/tempo-training