Strength and conditioning coaches in all sports and at all levels encourage control, proper technique and safety in order to improve performance and prevent injuries. Every professional baseball organization and their strength coaches are unique in that they have their own individual philosophies as to which form of resistance training is most appropriate for their athletes. Tempo training is an effective form of resistance training that can be safe and effective for both collegiate and professional athletes.
Tempo training was derived from Fartlek training in 1937 by Swedish coach Gosta Holmer as a way for his Swedish cross-country team to improve performance against their archrivals from Finland (5). Over time this form of training has been adapted and developed into a tool used by strength coaches for athletes in all sports, not just runners.
In order to apply tempo training to your program, it is important that you understand the three types of muscular contractions that can occur when a muscle attempts to overcome an applied resistance (1):
- Eccentric contraction – the muscle lengthens against the applied resistance
- Isometric contraction – the muscle contracts against the applied resistance with no change in muscle length or joint angle
- Concentric contraction – the muscle shortens and the joint angle decreases as the muscle overcomes the applied resistance
In tempo training, each phase of a muscular contraction is represented by a number such as 3:1:1 with each number representing the duration of a particular phase of the contraction (6). In a 3:1:1 movement, for example, the first number represents the duration of the eccentric phase; the second number represents the duration of the isometric phase (“pause” at the mid-point) and the third number represents the duration of the concentric phase of the movement. When performing a back squat with a 3:1:1 tempo, for example, an athlete would descend for three seconds (eccentric phase); pause the bottom position for one second (isometric phase) and then quickly ascend to the starting position in one second. The presence of an “x” instead of a number typically implies that the movement through that phase should be as explosive as possible.
Application to Professional Baseball. Tempo training can provide a number of benefits to both minor and Major League strength and conditioning programs. The primary benefits are:
- An increased kinesthetic awareness and improved exercise technique. When training for speed and power, an athlete must be under control. Slowing down the exercise will minimize the effects of momentum, decrease the workload, allow the athlete to lower the weight under control, concentrate on technique, “feel” the movement pattern, improve stability and develop muscular and connective tissue strength, especially during the anatomical adaptation phase of training. Getting the “feel” may be the most important benefit of tempo training, especially with younger less experienced players. Typically professional players at the lower levels have some difficulties performing the major compound exercises such as the barbell squat and dead lift correctly and efficiently. The International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA) encourages the use of tempo training with young athletes to teach them proper movement quality, increase strength and build a foundation for future performance increases (3). One of the main goals in our organization is to teach players safe and proper exercise mechanics. Decreasing training load and adjusting tempos have been main tools in accomplishing this goal.
- Reduced risk of injury. No strength and conditioning coach wants a player to miss practice or playing time because of a weight room-related injury. Safety is a major concern for all coaches. One of the primary benefits of altering tempos is that it can help reduce the risk of injuries in the weight room. Research by Headley et. al., shows that slowing down movement speed using 2:0:2 and 2:0:4 tempos forces an athlete to decrease the weight/workload and helps ensure exercises safety (2). Working at slower tempos with lighter loads is extremely important when working with younger players because these protocols produce neuromuscular and hypertrophic adaptations without being dangerous or compromising technique with loads that are too heavy (4).
There are numerous combinations of time intervals in tempo training that can be used to achieve different results (6). While a detailed discussion of these is beyond the scope of this article, there are some general combinations worth noting. For example, if the main goal is hypertrophy, workouts should use a slower tempo, longer time under tension and higher volume. A tempo of 4:1:3 creates more time under tension making it a good tempo when the goal is to increase size. If the goal is strength, workouts should use a faster tempo, shorter time under tension and less volume. A tempo of 2:0:1 should enhance strength. If the goal is to train for power and become more explosive, an acceptable tempo would be 1:0:1. This tempo won’t elicit a major hypertrophy response, but it will challenge the nervous system and increase strength and power.
Muscles adapt to the speed of contraction as well as to the force of contraction. This means that periodically varying the tempo of an exercise can be as important as varying
resistance or any other training variable in order to continue make progress. Using time under tension in your programming won’t magically make it the best program ever written, but using time under tension prescriptions in conjunction with the other elements of program design can deliver a better training effect and constant results.
- Haff, G. G. and Triplett, N. T. Essentials of strength training and conditioning, 4th Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2016.
- Headley, S, A., Henry, K., Nindl, B, C., Thompson, B, A., Kraemer, W, J., Jones, M, T., (2011). Effects of lifting tempo on one repetition maximum and hormonal responses to a bench press protocol. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 25(2), 406-413.
- Kurz, J. M., Latin, R., DeGraw, W., (2000). The relationship of training methods in NCAA division 1 cross-country runners and 10,000-meter performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 14(2), 196-201.
- Markiewicz, J., Tempo training for young athletes. http://iyca.org.
- Verstegen, M. Core Performance, Rodale,
Dwayne Peterson, RSCC, Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Lancaster JetHawks (California League), Houston Astros