Exercise Tempo: Does is matter?

By LiveWELL Coach Chris Collins, CPT

What is there to training? You just go into the gym, throw some weight around, count your reps, jump on some boxes, and leave the gym as if your workout just inspired a made for TV movie. Right?
Not so fast my friend!

Just as you can vary your workout with exercise order, number of repetitions, joint angles, and load, there is another factor that you can adjust to further tweak your exercises and workouts. You may not pay much attention to tempo, but slowing down, as well as lifting explosively, can each produce different physiological effects depending on exercise history and goals.

For those new to exercise, it’s important to lift slowly, both to “groove” muscle patterns and to allow muscle tissue to adapt to external resistance. To that end, a cadence of 4-2-1 is recommended, with the first number indicating the eccentric (lowering), the second the isometric (static), and the third the concentric (lifting) portions of each repetition.

The 2-0-2 second repetition cadence is most commonly associated with hypertrophy training, which is training designed to increase muscle size and density. Warning, the following paragraph contains a little science…

Cellularly, your muscles are composed of strands of interlocking nodules that attach and cling to each other as your muscles contract. When your muscles elongate under load (the eccentric, lowering portion), those same attachment sites create micro tears in muscle tissue, stimulating growth as they are forced to unhook and slide back into resting position.

On the other side of the tempo spectrum, there is the more quick, explosive repetition cadence, 1-0-1, which recruits more motor units, specifically type II white muscle fibers. I like to picture your brain, knowing that you want to lift something quick, telling those muscles responsible for the lift, “hey we need all we can to get this weight up. We need the biggest and quickest up front!”

With explosive lifts and tempo, it’s important that you have sufficient mobility to do the exercise correctly. It is also important that you give your body a chance to adapt to explosive demands, which can be demanding on the central nervous system. Make sure you give yourself plenty of rest, so you don’t compromise your next session. You want to be 100%.

Don’t leave your training to chance. The next time you walk into the gym, use some of these cadences to force your muscles to adapt to these tempo demands, and watch for the results.


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