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Play with tempo in your exercises
March 8, 2017
It's popular for coaches to set tempo numbers with an exercise program. However, if you understand what these numbers are and how they work, you can play with these numbers yourself to challenge your own workouts. Tempo numbers represent the time spent in each part of one exercise repetition. In the four-number set, the first number represents the eccentric muscle stretch, the second number the hold at the stretch, the third number the concentric muscle contraction, and the fourth number a hold at the starting position. So, if the tempo is set at 4-2-2-1 in a push up, for example, the body is lowered to the ground for 4 seconds, held at the bottom for 2 seconds, pushed up for 2 seconds and held in the starting position for 1 second.
Changing up these numbers will challenge your workout because muscles will have varied time under tension. Increasing or decreasing muscle time under tension will work different groups of muscle fibers. Our bodies have fast twitch muscle fibers (Type II A and Type IIB, where A can be moderate to fast) and slow twitch muscle fibers (Type I). To work fast twitch fibers, increase your speed. To work the slow twitch fibers, increase the time under tension.
So, for someone doing squats who wants to work their hamstrings, the tempo can be changed to 4-2-1-2, for example, where the eccentric number in the tempo is held longer for a slower squat. Similarly, to stretch the glutes at the bottom, hold the second number longer, i.e. 2-4-2-2. To work on speed or fast muscle fibers, lower your third number to 1 or 0 (jumping).
Changing up tempo numbers is especially important for more seasoned athletes because it becomes increasingly difficult for them to challenge their bodies in order to reach their fitness goals. For those of you just looking to stay healthy and fit, these concepts can be useful too. By adding variety to your movements, you can surprise your muscles and challenge your workout.