Over time I have been asked to write a lot of training programmes.  I’ve seen and read thousands, and even had the pleasure of marking many submitted as coursework while working at Drummond Education.

People getting active, being in the great outdoors and training is amazing. People who move actively or exercise lose weight, feel great and don’t get injured. Right?

Wrong…. many people who train who are muscularly weak, or are technically inexperienced and train without guidance, may perform movements incorrectly through poor or incorrect muscle activation or poor technique (without even knowing it). This may result in an injury appearing which starts with a niggle and overtime pain and possibly a weak muscle may go pop. I know it happens as I did it playing rugby. Torn hamstring due to really really weak glutes!

As a coach I realised the hard way. Technique and tempo are so important, some may say the most important consideration when writing (as a trainer) or following an exercise programme. Why?…because anyone can train, but can they do it correctly. To gain the exact adaptation you are trying to force our body to make,  be it stronger, faster, lighter, leaner, then the exercise technique and tempo must also be exact

So why are they so important?

Let’s start simply, with technique. As an example exercise the kettlebell swing. A great posterior chain exercise and very often performed incorrectly. People use their back and upper arms to swing the kettlebell to shoulder height and often just squat through the legs. But we just said we are aiming to drive movement through the entire posterior chain and the main joint movement of a kettlebell swing is hip flexion into hip extension? Therefore, the main muscle to drive into hip extension is……drum roll please…. your glutes!!! So, if we are not using the right muscles to perform a movement, we unfortunately start to train our brain and nervous system to perform the movement incorrectly or to activate muscles in an incorrect sequence or a compensatory recruitment and this results in an dysfunctional movement pattern. We rely on larger muscles (synergistic dominance) around the weak muscle to do the job e.g. Hamstrings and back over compensate for weak glutes. Then when we go to do that movement in everyday life or on the sports field the body responds and says ‘hey I can do that no problem, the pattern for this one is load the muscles in the back, shoulders, hamstrings and bang…. overload and injury! The synergist couldn’t take the extra load…ouch! However, get your technique right and with those glutes firing, you not only get stronger and more responsive glutes, but you also create a stronger posterior chain/body as a whole. Each muscle knows its job and is activated and fires when called upon in a functional movement pattern that is correct (rather than having to pick up that load from the lazy weak muscle in the chain).

Still with me?

Good, so tempo…. I often get asked how many reps of a particular weight I can do for a bicep curl (hey macho man!)

This is impossible to answer unless you give me more specifics. For example, if I slow down the tempo of a movement, it will become more physically demanding on the muscle and fibres, keeping it under stress for longer. It is for this reason that for a more explosive exercise, training power or speed, our tempo will be a lot quicker. But for hypertrophy we need to slow the tempo down to keep the muscle fibres under stress for longer, so they fatigue (and grow), hence muscle building.

So, if we have a particular goal in mind, we must know the tempo and weight % (this would be a % of our 1 rep max) for the exercise at hand to really reap the rewards (although it can hurt like hell!)

Now it gets a bit more technical as every movement has two phases

1 – Concentric phase (when the prime moving muscle is contracting/shortening). Think bicep as the elbow flexes.

2 – Eccentric phase (when the prime mover is lengthening. Bicep lengthens as you extend the elbow and your tricep contracts).

So as a guideline I have created the following table to help your training, dependent on what your goal is. But remember general rule of thumb is for speed and power you’re focusing on the concentric phase of a movement (normally against gravity). For muscle development and hypertrophy your training through the eccentric phase under control.

TrainingRepetitionsSetsIntensity
% 1 Rep Max
Tempo
(Ecc/Pause/Con)
Rest
Between Sets
Stabilisation12-201-350-70%Slow (4/2/1)30-60 secs
Endurance12-25+1-350-70%Medium (2/0/2)30-60 secs
Hypertrophy6-123-570-85%Medium (2-3/0/1-2)30-90 secs
Strength1-54-685-100%Moderate/Fast3-5 mins
Power1-63-685-100%Maximal/Explosive3-5 mins

Now I need to drop in, the above can vary based on the set system you use, but I’m not going to cover that topic now…. that’s the subject for the next article!

My top tip for your or any new client is nail technique (so the body learns how to move properly. It could be extremely difficult but will improve with time). Then with technique nailed, select the correct tempo to force your body to make the adaptation you’re looking to achieve. Don’t load until you have stability, control and moving well with correct technique.

As always thanks for reading and I hope this is useful, until next time.

Note of the week – Keep up the stretching and foam rolling J