We’ll be taking a break from the classic 8 week cycle to focus on varying the tempo of lifts for the duration of this cycle. There are quite a few nerdy things that can be said about the benefits of tempo training and eccentric training, and if you would like to read up on it beyond what will be written here, check out the links to studies throughout this post.
The essence of all of this nerdiness is that varying tempo helps make you stronger. Moving a weight as fast as you can will make you stronger, moreso than moving a weight as fast as you feel like it, as shown in the linked study. 20 participants split into two groups trained for three weeks, the only difference between the groups was the pressing speed of their bench press. One group was instructed to simply press out as they saw fit while the other group was instructed to press at 80-100% of maximal speed. The fast-pressing group saw a 10% bump in strength and a 2% boost in max speed in just three weeks while the self-paced group saw <1% change.
Speed demands more force, and more force will get you better results. Strength is moving weights around; power is moving weights around quickly. So we’re going to focus on making you all more powerful!
Just to be clear, this speed of movement I’m referring to is in regards to the concentric portion of a lift, aka- the hard part; standing up out of your squat, pushing the bar off of your chest, picking it up off of the floor.
The other side of the tempo coin this cycle will focus on eccentric training and tempo. We tend not to think about the eccentric portion of the lift because it doesn’t seem so threatening, and yet the eccentric portion of the lift is actually what is making you sore and doing the majority of the tissue damage. I know “damage” sounds bad, but this is actually how you get stronger- adaptations to reinforce muscle and connective tissue to better handle the next bout of… damage.
Mesenchymal stem cells naturally accumulate in muscle tissue after eccentric training, improving the adaptive and healing response.
In a concentric contraction, the muscle shortens under tension; in an eccentric contraction, the muscle lengthens under tension. The body’s adaptive responses to this loaded, lengthening stimulus lead to improvements in flexibility, thereby improving the position and working range.
“Concentric contractions produce movement, eccentric contractions control movement.” (Functional Anatomy Seminars, 2014)
Earlier I mentioned that the eccentric portion seems like so much less of a deal than the concentric portions and this is actually because we can move a lot more load eccentrically, 20-40% more. This allows greater tissue adaptation through higher potential mechanical loading than we can coax along with concentric loading limitations. We can use this advantage in training to prep tissues to withstand greater forces, and this is one mechanism that makes eccentric training a great tool for injury prevention. When loading is equal, we spend less energy in eccentric contractions, making it more beneficial for injury rehab. Eccentric training is used therapeutically to help with restoration of tissue, as with Achilles and patellar tendinopathy.
Another injury preventing effect of eccentric training is the enhancement of neuromuscular control via alpha motorneuron recruitment/firing, sarcolemma activity, corticospinal excitability, and brain activation. “There is mounting evidence that eccentric exercise is not only a therapeutic intervention influencing muscle morphology but also targets unique alterations in neuromuscular control, influencing injury risk.”
One last bonus to mention about eccentric training is that it has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity whereas concentric training alone does not.
The schedule of lifts this cycle will be more or less consistent with the last cycle, only differences being bench has moved to Friday and overhead press and deadlift will go to single arm/leg variations. If you can only make 1 day per week for squat (M/Th), deadlift(Tu/Fr), press (W/Sa), please focus on the eccentric programming for that lift. If you make 2, then work on speed programming. The speed programming will carry over into the next cycle as the main element and the eccentrics will take over some of the secondary strength training.