Strength training is typically all about the amount of weight you can lift. The goal is to keep adding weight to the bar, because that’s an obvious marker of progress. Plus, it looks cool.
However, athletes make a critical mistake following only this approach. In addition to the weight you use, you should consider the speed at which you’re lifting (tempo) and the quality of the movement. Rather then letting the weight tell you that it’s too heavy, make sure you understand the technique of the exercise, the desired tempo, and what right and wrong feel like. Listen to the feedback from your body. It can be very important. Finding a balance between load, technique and tempo will help you get more from your training.
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Control the pace of the movement. Dictate the time spent in the movement based on your goals. Sometimes you will focus on high-speed, explosive movements. Other times, you might slow down part of an exercise, like the negative, to focus on developing a specific strength quality.
In this instance, a portion of the exercise might take 4 or 5 seconds to complete. If tempo is beyond your typical training, your goal should always be to attempt to lift the weight as fast as you can. If you’re doing a lightweight exercise, the bar will move quickly. If you’re doing a heavy exercise near your max, it might still move slowly, but your intent was there.
This is important because unless you are specifically trying to lift slow, attempting to move the weight as fast as you can maximizes muscle fiber recruitment, more effectively increasing your strength and rate of force development (i.e., the speed at which your muscles can produce force). This is a key tenet of athletic performance.
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The first step is to master proper movement patterns with bodyweight exercises before progressing to load. Often, an athlete performs a perfect bodyweight Squat, but as soon as any kind of load is introduced, compensation happens and movement is compromised. This is usually what happens, but sometimes it works in reverse, where the load may fix certain inefficiencies the athlete has in the bodyweight movement. Many lifters use the excuse that the weight is too light. Although it can happen that more weight will fix a variety of issues, it is usually a copout. If you can move well at 80 percent, why can’t you execute a lift at 65 percent? Although load is important, it always comes in second to the quality of the exercise.
- Slow it down. Add tempo and pauses. Ask yourself what you are feeling during portions of the movement when they are done properly and when they’re done wrong. Associate these connections with how to get better.
- Add some weight. Increasing intensity and progressive overload will lead to an increase in strength.
- Increase volume with that speed or intensity. Increasing volume allows for a greater capacity and a much stronger base to build upon.
- If everything looks and feels good, continue to progress.
As an athlete, you meed to understand the importance and value of both components of training.
If you want to learn more about tempo and how progress movements, check out this article.