Ask the Coach” is the column in which Wolfgang Unsöld answers your questions about training and nutrition. The book of the same name was published by Riva Verlag and Available right here on Amazon.
Question: Hello, I have read and searched a lot about Tempo. I have researched a lot several times study on this topic. I've seen several times that speed isn't critical to maximum strength development. I also found a study that says an eccentric tempo of 1.5 seconds is best for maximum strength. I've read 3 of your books and haven't seen anything specific to maximum strength tempo. Maybe you could explain a little bit why a tempo like 4010 is better than a fast tempo like 1010 for maximum strength. Thank you in advance, I wish you a nice day and good luck! Vaáclav P.
WU: Tempo is one of the 4 training parameters that determine the training effect when performing an exercise. Tempo is certainly one of the most underestimated and misunderstood training parameters. To explain the definition of tempo more in this article: What is tempo? .
Basically on the mechanisms of maximum strength development: Tension in intensity and volume are decisive for the adaptation of muscles and nervous system.
The muscles are unable to perceive how heavy a weight is being used. All the muscles perceive is the tension that the weight generates. Based on the level (intensity) and duration (volume) of this tension, the muscle and the nervous system that recruits the muscle fibers adapt to the training stimulus. This is the main reason why eccentric contraction is critical to building maximum strength. And the concentric contraction hardly contributes to maximum strength development. Especially Prof. Dr. dr Dietmar Schmidtbleicher has researched and documented a great deal about eccentric strength development and its transfer to maximum strength and explosive strength. A slower eccentric contraction such as 4 seconds instead of 1 second directly increases the volume of tension on the muscles. So an important aspect of developing maximum strength is controlling eccentric tempo.
Since the topic of tempo is part of the curriculum of the YPSI Module 3 Program Design & Periodization seminar , I cannot fully address all aspects in this answer. A post like this also offers significantly less space, time and feedback than a 90-minute presentation.
However, there is not another aspect that is important for me to mention. The security aspect. One of the biggest benefits of controlling the eccentric with a slower pace like 4010 is the direct control to safety. A high load, such as that used in training to increase maximum strength, automatically entails a certain safety risk, albeit a very low one under ideal circumstances. For example, a 10X0 tempo for maximal strength exercises like dips, pull-ups, bench presses, and squats is associated with a higher risk of shoulder, back, and knee injuries. Provided that the trainee is not gradually introduced to maximum strength training with a rapid eccentric contraction.
A Porsche GT2 RS with 700 hp (0-100 km/h in 2.8 seconds), which, due to the forces that it can generate, poses a significantly greater safety risk than a VW Up with 44 hp (0-100 km /h in 14.4 seconds). However, this safety risk is significantly higher for an 18-year-old novice driver than for a trained racing driver. And so the fast eccentric training has its place. However, due to the safety and thus risk of injury, it is ideal for developing maximum strength in a few cases.
Minimizing the risk of injury is a crucial factor in developing maximum strength, since few factors have such a negative effect on training progress as injury.
If we also look at the empirical evidence, in powerlifting, the form of strength training where maximum strength development is paramount, what is striking is that maximum strength reps are consistently performed at a moderate to slow pace.
For example, powerlifting legend Ed Coan (1.68 m) used an eccentric pace of around 2.5 seconds for this world record with 423 kg. Given his short thigh mechanics that shorten the range of motion, as well as the mechanics of the powerlifting squat, which also relies on short range of motion, that 2.5 seconds is very close to the benchmark for a 4010 pace, and certainly a slower controlled one Tempo.
For taller powerlifters like Carl Yngvar Christensen (6') and Ray Williams (6'), the eccentric squat tempo is in the 4-5 second range as shown in the video examples below.
In order to state that a study of maximum strength development identified an eccentric tempo of 1.5 seconds as ideal, it is first to be noted that the crucial and mostly ignored aspect of these studies is the maximal strength of the study participants. For example, if we divide studies with 20 participants with an average maximum strength of 75kg on the LH bench press into 2 groups.
Group 1 performs 5 sets of 3 LH bench presses 2 times per week at 90% of 1RM at a 1010 tempo.
Group 2 performs 5 sets of 3 reps LH bench press 2 times per week at 90% of 1RM at a 4010 tempo.
After 6 weeks, the strength gains of both groups will be almost identical.
If we change one variable, and that is to increase the average maximum strength to 150kg, there will be big differences between the two groups. Group 1 will not only make less progress, the injury rate would also increase significantly.
The maximum strength of the participants in a study is decisive, since the lower the maximum strength, the less decisive is the absolute effectiveness of the training system. If you're doing 40kg LH bench presses, you'll be able to increase with twice per 3 sets of 8-12 reps. If you're doing 300 lbs LH bench press, you definitely won't be able to increase with 2 reps for 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
Thus, the first and most important hurdle of this example and thus the relevance of a study on maximum strength development is to fill a study with participants who have a high maximum strength, which is difficult or impossible, especially within the scope of the possibilities of a sports science institute at a university. Do you personally know 20 men in your region who are strong enough to bench press over 150kg?
This lesser relevance of studies in the field of maximal strength training can be perfectly complemented by empirical evidence. Pragmatism is key. Anyone who wants to build maximum strength can learn from those who have built a high level of maximum strength. Ed Coan, Carl Yngvar Christensen and Ray Williams are three examples of high maximal strength. How did these three train at each stage of their strength development to build this level of maximum strength? Controlled, technically correct repetitions were an important part of developing this maximum strength.
Conclusion: Different tempos have different advantages. Committing to a tempo is short-sighted, much like committing to a rep count or set count. It doesn't make much sense, since the body adapts too quickly to a certain stimulus and the training effect and, in this case, the development of maximum strength fail to materialize. An eccentric tempo like 4010 has many benefits and is a successful, sustainable tempo, especially for increasing maximum strength and minimizing injury.
Image: Speed kills.