Last month we looked at sets, reps, rep ranges and rest intervals. Now that you understand how those variables affect your training, let’s look into some terms to help you with the tempo of an exercise and exercise variations.
TempoAlso called rep speed, tempo refers to the manner in which the repetitions of an exercise are performed. Each repetition is divided into four phases. The first number in the series is always the length (in seconds) of the eccentric phase of the exercise. The second number is the transition time between the eccentric and concentric phases. The third number is the length of concentric phase. The fourth number is the transition time between the end of the concentric phase and the beginning of the eccentric phase of the next rep. Let’s look at a 3-0-2-1 tempo for a bicep curl. You would perform the eccentric phase in three seconds (3). When you reach the bottom position, you don’t pause (0) but go directly into the concentric phase, lifting the bar in two seconds (2). At the top of the concentric phase, you wait, squeezing the muscle for one second before lowering the weight again (1).
This consists of pairing two compound movements for the same muscle group (bench press and dips, for example). In the case of bench press and dips, if your triceps are stronger than your pectorals, you’ll still rely mostly on them during both movements, and the chest might still be left under-worked. The only advantage to a compound superset is that you can work more than one part of the muscle in the same set; however, this is better accomplished with isolation movements.
IsolationThis refers to pairing two isolation exercises for the same muscle group. The purpose of this approach is to focus on several parts of a muscle at the same time. For this technique to work, you have to select exercises that actually work different parts of the muscle. If you choose two movements targeting the same area, you’re not getting full value from this technique.
A superset is when you perform a set of two exercises back to back, without resting between them. There are several types of supersets, including pre-fatigue and post-fatigue. Pre-fatigue refers to pairing two exercises for the same muscle group. The first is an isolation movement, and the second is a compound movement. An example for the chest would be to perform a set of dumbbell flies followed by a set of bench presses. The logic here is that in a compound movement, the target muscle isn’t working alone and might not be fully stimulated at the end of the set.
By pre-fatiguing the target muscle, we increase the chance of fully stimulating it. For beginners, pre-fatigue is also good for learning how to feel a target muscle in a compound movement. For example, many people have a hard time feeling their pectoral muscles working when they bench press, and by pre-fatiguing the chest with an isolation movement you’ll better feel the pecs in the bench press.
Post-fatigue is nearly the same thing as pre-fatigue, except that the exercise order is reversed; you start with the compound movement and then perform the isolation one. This also allows you to fully stimulate the target muscle but doesn’t interfere with the amount of weight you can use during the big exercise.
In the next issue, we will focus on how to make your sets more challenging and increasing the volume of an exercise. Happy training!