T Nation

Find Your Productive Tempo


Recently, I got a PM from a member of this mag, a fellow reader of yours, ?Louisluthor? who reminded me why is it that people get so confused at the concept of tempo, and how can the so-called ?gurus? often forget about helping those in need by simple speaking in plain old English to them instead of confusing them with their concepts, as cryptic as the ?koan? riddle-poems of the Zen Buddhism.

His question was simple:? Mr. Savage, I like to work with moderate to light weights, and move fast?I couldn?t lower a weight in more than 2 seconds, which would be already a big accomplishment for me and I can?t lift it slower than 2 seconds, even if my life depended on it.? What can I do to get big by using this kind of parameters instead of the normal ones, or should I quit bodybuilding at all if I can?t follow those?

Folks?a tear rolled down my cheek. This is the kind of questions which show me the desperate need for help that some ?gurus? ignore on account of the almighty dollar, because these guys don?t buy their books or pay for a session, which would be kind of hard for him, for he lives in a jungle province of Colombia, near the Amazon rainforest.

I am a big Greenpeace fan and contributor, so I needed to help out a guy who lives in a place which I am trying to save, and plus, he is a fellow ecologist, so here goes my advise:

Dear Louisluthor:

You see, the thing about tempo is that some people have it in them and some people don?t. You see, this is the reason why some guys run the 42,195 kilometers (26,22miles for us English measure system fans) marathon and some the 100 meters, and even some run in the 100 meters with hurdles. Everybody has a different fiber make-up and a different capability to produce force at a certain rate and for a certain time.

There are several choices in tempo, but you should find your own ?natural? tempo by actually lifting the weight without counting it, let a spotter count it for you. Experiment between 2 or 3 different loads in the same exercise, each one heavier than the previous one (not by more than 10%) but keeping them at a moderate level and use a 10-15 reps range on those first 3 sets, resting 2 minutes between them. You shouldn?t come too close to failure; my advice would be to stay 3 or 5 reps away from it. After you hit those 3 sets, rest 10 minutes, and then do 2 sets of 4-6 reps with heavier loads, resting 5 minutes between them and see how it works for you. Let the spotter count the tempo by using a stopwatch, or an analog watch, a metronome or such, and don?t stress yourself.

You may end up in one of several crowds or groups, just like some are really good at dancing salsa music and some at break-dance, there can be some people good for other rhythms as well, and you can find yourself in one of 7 areas:

1-) You get a really good pump out of lifting heavy with a 10X tempo (which could be more like a 101 tempo when you really look at it) and low- rep sets work for you better, or you get a better pump out of lifting moderately heavy with 10-15 rep sets and the previous tempos, and you get results from it without straining yourself.

2-) You do better by stretching the negative to 2 seconds, and lifting in 1 second or less, keeping the sets low-rep and heavy, but not as much as before. Or you can also strike gold if you slow down to 201 or 20X and 110-15 rep sets, with moderate weights, still a little lighter than example 2.

3-) You can add pauses and stretch the time under tension by using tempos such as 211, 301 or even 311-31X, again with low reps, or with 10-15 rep sets.

4-) You can?t slow down the negative more than 2 seconds, but you can lift in 2 seconds to get that desired pump from each rep, a 202 tempo. Perhaps you can add a 1-second pause at the bottom (212 tempo) or perhaps you can?t, but the muscles feel good and you could feel it more with low-rep sets or with the 10-15 rep sets, whichever one gives you more results.

5-) You can lift slow, to feel a better contraction of the muscles, deeper, intense and productive, but you can lower in 3-4 seconds, or pause for 2 seconds at the bottom, at least for 1 second (402, 222, 312 tempos) with relative ease, not to say the reps are easy or sloppy or wussy at all, just more focused on form rather than on force. Again, low-rep or moderate-rep sets, the choice is yours, get the most bang for your buck, buddy.

6-) You can?t lift slow, but you can take all the time in the world to lower, or to pause at the bottom. I am talking about the typical guy who lifts in 1 second or less and can lower the weight so slow that it seems like it is an isometric exercise, like in 4 seconds or more to lower and that?s even if he doesn?t stop for a single second at the bottom. I am thinking the typical 60X, 501, 411 tempos, or a classical 321-32X tempo, for those who can?t lower that slow but love to pause at the bottom to get a better feel.

6-) All else failed and you seem to be happy with doing reps at a pace only you seem to use, something like 1 second per rep. That would be a X0X tempo, in theory, but we all know you take more time to lower than to lift, or perhaps you don?t. That means that you probably end up in a type of workout in which the set density can be of a minimum 20 reps and a maximum of 50 reps per each set. That would follow more in the Chris Thibadeau concept of Timed Sets (issue 284 of t-mag), but it would work if you adjust the tempo volume for the week to fill your needs.

Now, let?s go to basics: If you are using the low-rep heavy load approach, don?t shoot for as many reps as a normal program. Think GVT?s 500-600 seconds of Time Under Tension per muscle group a week and cut it in half. Now, if you are using 10-15 rep sets, shoot for those 500-600 seconds of T.U.T. per week for your muscles. As far as frequency goes, see what works for you. I have to warn you about 3 things:

1-) You might get a good pump out of doing dips in a 101 tempo and get the pump out of a set of bench press with a 202, 401 or 321 tempo. Each exercise will feel different and of course, use a different choice of tempo.

It will take you a couple of weeks, using the test-drive approach to cover at least 4 exercises per muscle group to get the idea, training 2 times per week and separating these test-drive sessions by 72 hours.

2-) Even if one body part can use the same tempo and feel good from it in all of the compound exercises, the secondary muscle group might be different.

If you loved a 402 tempo for chest exercises in the compound movements, the triceps might respond to a 201 tempo better, or vice-versa. It is something you must be ready for at all times, so you know how to exercise one muscle group without harming the other and being able to train consistently to get results and avoid injuries.

3-)Your RMs (Repetition Maximums) and your tempos may change every once in a while, so be ready to discover that a tempo prescription can?t last for more than 6 weeks.
This is not to say that you will change from a 10X tempo to a 402 in 6 weeks, this is to say that you might feel that you can stretch (or even shorten very slightly) the concentric or eccentric in 1 second, maybe 2 and get results for another 6 weeks before you throw the body out of balance and confuse it to continue growing. No program parameters can last forever, but you can?t expect to get apples from a pine three.

This also ties in with what I?ve said about different stimuli from different exercises and rep ranges. I personally use a 1-rep per second speed on pushups, going between 25 and 40 per and 4-5 sets, but then I love doing dips in a 101 tempo for 2-3 sets of 12-15 and 8-10 reps in bench press with a 201 tempo for 3 sets and finish with1- 2 sets of 6 in the incline press for a 401 tempo. Nobody can have a ?permanent? or ?stable? scheme.

Well, Louisluthor, hope this helps you in any way. Just remember, Rome wasn?t built on a day and persistence can overcome any obstacle, so good luck and remember: half the war is won on logistics alone, so proper nutrition can help you more than any program you try, and as a very wise coach says ?the best program is the one you haven?t tried?, so just go ahead and do your best, for there is no such thing as TRYING, but doing?..?

Well folks, there?s another piece of my mind for you, some will like it, some will choke on it and I hope some devour it with eagerness and an open mind. Gotta go train now, and also get some groceries from the store, so I will leave you now, hope you send me more PMs to help you, or at least share some info with you in case it is useful for you.