Slow Tempo Strength Training for Increased Size and Work Capacity

Slow tempo strength training. This involves taking a compound movement - squat, pushup, inverted row, etc. - and performing both the eccentric and the concentric portion slowwwly, without pausing in the top or bottom of the movement. So, for a pushup, you would take 2-3 seconds to lower yourself down, and then immediately transition into a 2-3 second ascent. Rinse, lather, and repeat.

What is this good for?

  • Improving work capacity
  • To use in the “base” phase of a training plan, to allow for improved recovery capacity during later phases of training (you know what helps you recover in between sets of picking heavy stuff off the ground? Yep, the aerobic system) In fact, both Ryan and Carson did this in preparation for their powerlifting meet last week
  • Developing connective tissue strength and overall joint stability
  • Augmenting the ability of your muscles (both fast twitch and slow twitch) in their utilization/transportation of oxygen
  • Enhancing static strength (think grappling, wrestling, etc.)
  • Hypertrophy of the slow twitch fibers (makes them bigger)

For athletes that require a well-developed and powerful aerobic system, it would be wise to spend an entire “block” on slow tempo training (while maintaining other qualities) in the beginning of a training cycle, and then continue to cycle it in during “mini blocks” throughout the remainder of the training year. However, I’d primarily recommend this to athletes that already have a solid base of exercise technique and general strength training, and it’s also beyond the scope of this post to go into how one would do this.

However, today I’m going to stray a little bit from the typical SAPTstrength-style approach, and step away from the athletic performance side of things for a second.

Today, I want to appeal to you bodybuilders and masochists in the crowd.

Slow tempo training, not only has the potential to make ‘dem muscles bigger, but is also one of the most difficult methods to undergo. Not difficult in terms of loading used, of course, but difficult in terms of you just get really freaking tired.

Given that slow twitch fibers are more “endurance-based” in general, and thus highly resistant to fatigue, it takes a fairly high-volume approach to incite adaptations within them.

Pick 4 exercises (ex. squat, pushup, inverted row or cable row, and good morning), and lay out a month of training like so:

Week 1: 4 sets of 10 reps at a 2-0-2 tempo (this comes out to :40 of work). Rest 40 seconds between sets. Week 2: 2 series of 3 sets of 10 reps at a 2-0-2 tempo. Rest :40-:60 between sets, and rest 4-8 minutes between series. Week 3: 2 series of 4 sets of 10 reps at a 2-0-2 tempo. Rest :40-:60 between sets, and rest 4-8 minutes between series. Week 4: Three series3 sets of 10 reps at a 2-0-2 tempo. Rest :40-:60 between sets, and rest 4-8 minutes between series. Then curl up and die.

(Note: Your heart rate should remain BELOW anaerobic threshold during these. If it climbs above this, lower the weight, and/or rest a bit longer between sets).

I guarantee this will be one of the most humbling things you have ever done.

Also, be sure to keep some sort of stop watch or metronome (I use a Gym Boss), as all of you are going to naturally tend to move too slow during the lowering phase, and too quickly through the "up" portion of the lift. The clock helps keep you honest better than you'd think.

I’d start off with 30-40% of your 1RM on the squat, and you may need to elevate your hands during the later sets of the pushups. Yes, you may need to elevate your hands during the pushup portion (especially if you’re actually doing them correctly).

What about loss in power output?

Some of you may be wondering, ”But if I train slow, won’t I become slow?”

Not necessarily.

Muscle power output is directly proportional to cross-sectional area of the fiber. Soooo, if you hypertrophy a bunch of smaller, slow-twitch fibers, essentially making them as large as a “fast-twitch” fiber, and thus the total cross-sectional area of the fibers is equal to that of a fast-twitch fiber, then you can still produce the same level of power.

Not to mention, even when you train “explosively,” your IIx fibers still experience a bit of a transition to the more intermediate side of the continuum anyway. How bout them apples?

Besides you can still (which I recommend), perform a low volume of jumps, med ball throws, and the like to maintain these qualities during a cycle of slow tempo work.