Why Tempo

Hey Vic City,

The last class WOD had a skill component of TEMPO squats. Tempo movements are a great way to mix up traditional strength exercises, and help you build strength in positions that are often quickly vacated. When doing regular squats, you might hear a cue to drive fast out of the hole or bottom of the squat. The longer we stay down there, the harder it is to stand back up. However, on the flip slide, we seldom accumulate much time in the bottom of our squat position. This is where tempo training comes into play.

Tempo training often is written as a sequence of 3 or 4 digits. The last class WOD featured a 3-2-X tempo.

The first digit represents the lower/eccentric phase. This helps us build strength and control as we descend down. Our lowering phase for the class took 3 seconds, yes 3 full seconds.

The second digit indicates the pause/transition phase. This is often a point of weakness so keeping tension and accumulated time will help build strength, regardless of weight on the bar. Our pause lasted for 2 seconds.

The third digit refers to concentric/lifting phase. This is where most of the exertion happens. Quite often this will be an 'X' which means eXplode. This intention is to move as quick as possible. It might take half a second, it might take five seconds but the thought should be to move the weight as fast as you can. If the X was a 2, it would be expected to take 2 seconds to lift to the top, regardless if you can go faster.

Sometimes there is a fourth digit 3-2-X-1. If that is the case, the fourth number is the time spent in the top position. If the exercise was a squat, it would be the time that is spent standing before beginning the next three second descent.

If you are unable to adhere to the prescribed tempo, that likely means the weight is too great. It doesn't mean you can't lift it, it just means that we need to lighten it to help spend time in the positions that need that extra exposure under tension.

Now we know "what" tempo is, now it's time for the "why"

In my research there are plenty of benefits to tempo movements, but here are my top 3.

1. Improved movement quality. Tempo spans way beyond just squats, and even barbell lifts. Gymnastic movements, such as pull-ups can be performed under a tempo prescription. As mentioned previously, the increased time throughout the exercises helps to identify potential weaknesses. A pull-up for example - if an athlete has difficulty with a 3 second lower or isn't able to control speed at the top part of the movement, could indicate certain weaknesses regardless of the number of kipping chin over bar pull-ups that can be performed.

2. Comfort in movements. CrossFit movements are compound, meaning many muscles and joints are working at the same time. For that reason, being comfortable in certain positions needs to occur before your body will willingly get there, especially with heavy loads. If an athlete is struggling with squat snatches, tempo overhead squats could be prescribed to build comfort in the bottom position of the overhead squat/ receiving position of the snatch. Once you get familiar with the bottom of a squat with weight supported overhead, your squat snatch will likely become more consistent.

3. Greater strength gains. The increased time under tension causes the muscle to work longer causing a greater amount of fatigue. The pauses recruit more muscle fibers, including smaller stabilizing muscles to support controlling the positions. Your body doesn't know if it is one hundred pounds or one thousand pounds, if its hard, your muscles need to work to get the job done. A tempo at 50% can be just as challenging as a regular set at 80% - it is all relative.

Next time tempo work comes up, focus on sticking to the tempo, it'll pay off down the road. If counting isn't enough to keep you adhering to the tempo, hand signals might work. Grab a partner and give it a shot.


Training Wednesday - Thursday

Warm-up: Alternating EMOM x 5 rounds (10 min)

Even minutes: Starting with an empty barbell 3 cycles bear complex building up to WOD weight

Odd minutes: 30 sec Assault bike (increasing speed each round)

*One Bear Complex is 1 squat clean thrusters into back squat thruster

WOD: "Bungalow"

RX - 18 min AMRAP

20 Squat Cleans (115/75)

20 Lateral Burpee Over Bar

20 Chest to Bar Pull-ups

100 Double Unders

20 Shoulder to Overhead (115/75)

20 Toes to Bar

20 Wallballs (20/14)

FG - 95/65, banded pull-ups, 25 double unders+100 single unders, hanging knee raise

TG - Scale as needed

CP - Bar 155/105, Ball 30/20

Cashout: 5 x 5 TEMPO ring row 3-0-2-2