If you asked most people what the secret to getting stronger is, most would say lift more weight, or do more repetitions. This strains the muscles, therefore theoretically cause them to grow. Sure, that’s good and all. But, there’s a simple hack to get stronger. This is…tempos, pauses and holds.
What are tempos, pauses and holds?
Let’s use the squat as our example. A typical squat goes something like this:
Push hips back and down as if reaching for a chair to sit on. Keep the chest up as the hips go down. Once the hips are lower than the knees, push the floor away. Leading with the chest stand up to return to starting position.
Now let’s add in a tempo and a pause:
Push hips back and down as if reaching for a chair to sit on. Keep the chest up count to 5 as your hips go down.You should reach 5 once the hips are lower than the knees. Come to a complete stop in this position and count to 3. Push the floor away. Lead with the chest as you stand up and return to the starting position.
Yes, it’s the same movement. But, focusing on tempo, pauses and holds causes the muscles to be under tension for a longer time per rep. This is known as time under tension.
How does time under tension work?
When muscles are placed under tension the fibers tear. When these tears heal, the muscles grow back stronger. This is how muscles are built.
Time under tension comes into play because your muscles must spend time pushing, pulling and flexing to break down. Theoretically, the more time our muscles spend pushing, pulling, and flexing the more tension they are under and the stronger they become.
By adding tempos, pauses and holds to a movement your muscles spend more time under tension. And the really awesome thing is that you don’t have to use heavy weights or do more reps.
But I like heavy weights…
Yes, of course, who doesn’t like lifting something heavy and having that instant gratification? But guess what? We should be varying our weights. It’s good to lift heavy sometimes…but not all the time.
Heavy weights and high rep ranges can cause issues, such as:
- Stress on joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones
- Injury. Poor form with heavy weight or lots of reps is a good way to get hurt
Also, due to Covid-19, gym equipment has recently been hard to come by. A great benefit to tempos is that you need very little weight for them to work effectively.
Are there times you need to add more weight? Yes, of course. But for the average person, a focus on tempos, holds and pauses and getting into proper form will pay off. This is way more valuable than just picking up heavy weights with bad form.
What benefits come from tempo work?
- Less overall stress on the body and central nervous system. If you’re used to lifting heavy, this will be a welcome break for your body
- Ability to focus on what muscles are recruited for each movement. This is a good test for if we are using the proper ones
- Our focus shifts to proper movement and form, instead of how much weight is being moved
- Less equipment is needed, especially weight
- You get a deeper understanding of your movement
How do I incorporate more tempos, pauses and holds?
Adding tempo work is easy, and one of the nice things is how many options you have. The possibilities are endless. A good rule to remember is only do your tempos, pauses and holds as long as you can maintain good form. Adding a 10 second pause to a front squat will only help if you keep good front squat form.
When you do add these to your training, make sure to keep the ego in check.You will have to be using lighter weights than you usually do. Some people have a difficult time with this and give up on the tempo work. But I can promise you that, if done properly, this strategy will only increase your numbers and help you break plateaus.
Have a tempo combo you love? Let us know what your favorites are!