Tampering with the tempo

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, is a Certified Health Coach and longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center.

By Cathleen Kronemer

It is often said that change is a good thing.  Believing this is the easy part; enacting it is a very different story, right?  While many individuals deal with change smoothly and deftly, I have never been one to fall into that category. I like my routine – which some may call ‘rigidity’  — but for the most part it provides comfort and security in what can often become a maelstrom of daily events.

Oddly enough, the one area of my life where I actually embrace change is in the gym.  When working with clients, I provide them with new programs every four to five weeks, to keep their progress from hitting a plateau.  New challenges dictate new muscle fiber recruitment.  This is the same manner in which I approach my own workouts.  To be honest, for me it is as much a matter of staving off boredom as it is challenging my muscles!  After over a decade of serious bodybuilding, I must strive to keep things exciting.

Creativity in exercise choice is a key aspect of my workouts, for my own benefit as well as that of each client.  However, there are also ways of performing the same exercise with a new set of challenges, putting a different spin on the same movement; this is where the tempo comes into play.

I’ll use the traditional push-up as an example.  Most of us perform the push-up with a tempo of “down one, up one,” for as many repetitions as are desired.  This is beyond a doubt one of the great exercises of all time, since no equipment is required, and very little space as well.  After a while, though, it truly can become stale. Tempo has a great deal to do with how the muscles respond to the demands being placed upon them. Here are a few variations on the exercise that are sure to introduce some new challenges and shake up those muscle fibers.

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Perform the traditional push-up as follows: 

1. Lower for four counts; pause at the bottom for one count; lift for one count.

2. Lower for one count; pause at the bottom for four counts; lift for one count.

3. Eliminate the pause altogether, and lower for two counts, lift for two counts.

While these changes may seem simple, each one transforms the push-up into an entirely new performance challenge.  Try each variation for two weeks then move on to the next.  At the end of six weeks, return to the traditional tempo.  You may find your endurance and strength have jumped into the next dimension. 

This pattern can be applied similarly to a traditional squat, bench press, or just about any common strength training exercise.  Keep your workouts fun and interesting, and your body as well as your mind will respond favorably. Change can be good, after all!