nav-left cat-right

What is Tempo Training?

Have you heard of it? Tempo training, once popular in the weight lifting circuit, took a back seat for a while and now is back in serious strength-training and coaching circles. Tempo training is not a new concept. It’s basically controlling and varying the speed and rhythm of each repetition of a set of strength training exercises.

Tempo Training: Basic Components

There are two essential ‘main phases’ to strength training exercises and, of course, to tempo training, the eccentric and concentric phases. The eccentric phase involves lowering a weight whereas the concentric phase involves lifting the weight (contracting the target muscle). If you use momentum to ‘hoist’ up your weight and then rapidly drop it, you are minimizing benefits, wasting time and risking injury. Two other components of tempo training are isometric ‘holds’ or short pauses that should be included when the weight is down/stretched and when the weight is ‘up’ or the muscle is contracted.

With tempo training, you are purposefully using different speeds or ‘counts’ for each main phase depending upon your fitness goals how you wish to effectively target your muscles. Generally speaking, it’s best to work with a certified personal trainer to develop a basic routine, customized for you while perfecting your form. Mix and match cadences (tempos) to create multiple lifting variations.

Imagine biceps curls. You start with straight arms. Consider curling up on a count of two, pausing for one second, lowering on a count of four and pausing for another second. As you lower the weight, you are engaging both target and ‘helper’ muscles, maximizing results. That’s tempo training! Always avoid using momentum or ‘swinging’ to help you hoist up the weights. If you can’t lift in a controlled manner, try using lighter weights.

Tempo Training and Muscle Fiber Engagement

There are two categories of muscle fibers: type I and type II. The speed or tempo you adopt when performing strength training exercises determines which type of muscle fibers are most engaged. Type I or slow-twitch fibers are working during low-intensity, sustained activities whereas type II or fast-twitch fibers are engaged during short, high-intensity bursts of activity.

Lift a weight in a slow and controlled manner during the concentric phase and you’ll target mainly type I muscle fibers. Fast, powerful concentric phases, like a quick push (pushing weight away from your body) stimulates (and grows) type II muscle fibers.

In general, super-fast concentric phases aren’t appropriate for most strength-training exercises. Increasing the speed increases the likelihood that you’ll use proper form, taking the work emphasis off of the target muscle and potentially placing undue stress on tendons and ligaments. Think of going from slow and to faster…but always very controlled.

Tempo Training: Next Steps

You’ll want to switch up your cadence, or tempo, depending upon your training goals, desired results; even the exercises you choose. In an upcoming post, I’ll delve further into the three main ‘cadences’ in tempo training: slow, normal and fast and list specific exercises appropriate for each category.


Body Weight Exercises for Legs

Body Weight Exercises for Legs: Significance

Let’s move on to your lower body, specifically, to exercises for legs. We will cover body weight exercises for the hips, buttocks and core separately. Alternate upper– and lower-body moves to minimize rest periods, keep your heart rate elevated throughout your workout and save time. Engaging in resistance training and doing body weight exercises for legs regularly makes performing activities of daily living easier. General recommendations call for choosing effective exercises in a meaningful sequence (work largest muscles first). Working toward developing balanced strength amongst major leg muscles (quads and hamstrings, for example) may protect you from common injuries, such as pulled muscles.

There are dozens of effective body weight exercises for legs, for maximum efficiency, choose compound moves or those that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Best results come from working out smarter, not necessarily longer.

Body Weight Exercises for Legs: Specifics

You don’t need exercise equipment to get an effective, tough workout, even if you are already in great shape. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), squats, step-ups/downs, split squats/lunges and hamstring curls (standing or on all fours) are among the most effective body weight exercises for legs, in fact, for your whole lower body. First…squats. Start with a basic squat and build from there. Deep squats, self-assisted squats, one-legged squats, walking lunges and squats – the variations are virtually endless.

Always challenge yourself and vary your exercise choices. Advanced exercisers may progress to plyometrics, power exercises that involve explosive but controlled jumping movements. Golden rule for standing leg work: Never extend your knees beyond your toes, keep your weight mainly over your heels.

Don’t neglect your calves when performing exercises for legs. Best choice: calf raises (2-legged or 1-legged, balancing or assisted). Remember, if you are relying on body weight alone (for resistance), you must concentrate on really contracting the target muscle, imagining you are trying to move against resistance, such as water.

Exercises for Legs: Last Words…

Warnings: avoid over-training and using inconsistent, poor form. Always stop if you are experiencing unusual or sharp pain. Do not rely on exercise ‘lists.’ Watch them performed by a professional on or YouTube to read descriptions and view proper form through the full range of motion (video). Do step-ups on a box of an appropriate and realistic height. Step-up from behind a box/bench or from the side. Always push through the heel of your working leg to lift your body upwards while contracting your butt. Last word: don’t forget to do a warm-up and post-workout stretch!

Flexibility Training

Dedicated athletes looking for an edge in their field of competition need an exercise regimen based on four critical areas of training. These four areas increase speed, size, and power in any athlete. They include (1) flexibility (2) core strength (3) explosive movements, and (4) the strengthening of the posterior kinetic chain.  When combined with an upper body strength routine one can almost guarantee improvement on the court, the field or the ice. In this piece, we’ll focus on the flexibility component of athletic training and conditioning.

Importance of Flexibility

Increasing an athlete’s flexibility (as well as warming up prior to workouts) helps to decrease risk of injury. If an athlete lacks flexibility he/she is unable to enjoy a full range of muscular motion. Think about a new rubber band. It stretches only to a point before snapping. By ‘working’ it, repetitively, it stretches further and further without snapping. Much like your muscles. Not being able to perform an exercise completely, through a full range of motion, makes the exercise or movement incomplete or stilted. That lack of flexibility, in combination with other factors such as inadequate recovery periods, unbalanced training and/or using poor form all inhibit muscular development.

More often than not, flexibility in athletics is incorrectly incorporated into an exercise routine. It’s dangerous to stretch cold muscles. Performing a ‘dynamic’ warm up before a workout, event or game instead of static stretching is the best option. A dynamic warm-up may include movements such as walking lunges, knee raises, butt kicks, arm circles and squats. You don’t need equipment – use your own body-weight only.

Active Vs Passive Stretching for enhancing Flexibility

Passive stretching involves using an external force to push a joint beyond its active range of motion. Performing a standing calf stretch against a wall or using a partner to push you into a deeper stretch are examples of passive stretching. Instead of passive stretches, engage in ‘active’ stretching exercises. Active stretching uses your own muscular strength and effort to hold a position. Active (isolated) stretching is safe and effective as you eliminate external forces. You use your own muscle strength to achieve the desired range of motion. As the one muscle contracts the target muscle (opposite the contracting muscle – the one you want to stretch) relaxes and lengthens.

An example of an ‘active’ stretch for the chest is extending your arms out to the sides and retracting your shoulder blades. To actively stretch the hamstrings, extend your leg straight in front of you and relax it by contracting the quadriceps. When you contract your quadriceps, your brain sends a signal to your hamstrings to ‘relax.’ This allows you to achieve a deeper stretch without force.

Now that we’ve covered flexibility, we’ll move on to the second major component in athletic training and conditioning: core strength.