Feeling stuck in your workout routine? Not seeing the results you expect? One of the most overlooked elements for busting through a strength plateau is tempo — the speed at which you perform a movement. Even a slight tweak to cadence can completely change the stimulus to your muscles, reengage your mind, and amp up your motivation to train.
“When someone isn’t seeing results, their first thought often is, I should be doing more. But more isn’t better — better is better,” says Life Time personal trainer and nutrition coach Lindsay Ogden, CPT. “Many times, it’s not a matter of what you should add, but rather what you can change, to get the results you’re looking for.”
That’s where tempo training comes in. By optimally challenging the muscles through the different phases of a movement — think lifting, lowering, and pausing in between — it’s possible to shore up weaknesses and imbalances, and power through plateaus. (Learn more about this at “The Tempo-Based Workout“.)
In Fit + Focused, a complimentary six-week program Ogden designed to help Life Time members dial in their movement, nutrition, and mindset, tempo training is used as an effective way to introduce a novel challenge to body and mind.
Ogden shares the following upper-body strength workout, which incorporates pushing and pulling exercises performed at a tempo of slow eccentric (lowering) phases paired with explosive concentric (lifting) phases. After the strength block, fatigued — but not overworked — muscles are further challenged with a 15-minute conditioning AMRAP (as many reps as possible) that targets the upper body and core.
“I truly believe a quality program will have you feeling better than when you started,” Ogden says. “It will make you feel empowered and able to break through any plateaus — physically and mentally.”
Life Time’s Lindsay Ogden designed the following upper-body workout, drawing from Fit + Focused programming.
Begin with a five- to 10-minute warm-up. Emphasize dynamic, low-resistance upper-body movements, like cross-body high pulls, scap pushups against a wall, and banded pass-throughs.
Next, move on to the strength routine. Perform three rounds of block 1, alternating between the exercises labeled A1 and A2; then perform three rounds of block 2, alternating between the exercises labeled B1 and B2. Avoid rushing through the movements, and follow the tempo notations:
- The tempo note’s first digit is the duration, in seconds, of the eccentric (lowering) phase.
- The second digit refers to the duration of the pause after you lower the weight.
- The third digit describes the concentric (lifting) phase; “X” stands for “explosive.”
- The fourth digit refers to the duration of the pause after you’ve completed the lift.
Begin with three sets of the warm-up, designed specifically to prep your body for the strength and conditioning workout to follow.
- Crossbody High Pull x 8 reps per side
- Scap Pushups on Wall x 10 reps
- Banded Pass-Through x 10 reps
Crossbody High Pull
Perform 8 reps per side
- Stand with your hips shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell outside of your left foot.
- Hinge at the hips and bend your knees. Keeping your back flat, rotate your upper body to the left and reach your right hand across your body to grab the dumbbell.
- Gripping the dumbbell, reverse the movement to return to standing and pull the dumbbell across the midline of your body, up to your right shoulder.
- Perform the desired number of reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
Scap Pushups on Wall
Perform 10 reps
- Stand facing a wall.
- With feet flat and arms fully extended, place your hands flat on the wall directly in front of your shoulders. Engage your core and maintain a flat back and neutral neck position, as if though you were holding a plank.
- Without bending your elbows, draw your shoulder blades together. Retracting your shoulder blades will bring your upper body slightly closer to the wall. Make sure that you are keeping your arms extended and engaged, and that you are not arching your back to achieve the movement.
- Reverse the movement by actively pressing your hands into the wall and protracting the shoulder blades back to the starting plank position.
Perform 10 reps
- Hold the ends of a resistance band in each hand and spread your arms so your hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your arms fully extended, raise them overhead and lower them behind your body until the resistance band touches your lower back.
- Reverse the movement by raising the band behind you and back overhead, until it is in front of you.
- Don’t bend your elbows, arch or round your back, or move one arm at a time to compensate for immobility or band tension. Move your hands farther away from each other (or use a lighter band) to ensure that you can move through the full range of motion while still feeling a stretch through your shoulders.
⊕ Perform three sets of the warm-up.
Block 1: Upper-Body Strength
Reminder: Avoid rushing through the movements, and follow the tempo notations (refer to the Workout Overview for an explanation of the tempo notations).
A1) Hand-Release Pushup
Reps: 10 to 12
- Assume the top of a pushup position, with your hands flat on the floor directly beneath your shoulders, or slightly wider than shoulder width. For this pushup variation, you can be up on your toes or on your knees. (Don’t elevate your hands.)
- Engage your core and bend your elbows to lower yourself all the way to the floor on a controlled count of three. Aim your elbows behind you, angled slightly away from your body but not all the way out to the sides.
- Without moving your head, body, or legs, lift your hands off the floor. Hold this raised-hand position for a one-count.
- Return your hands to the floor and explosively push yourself up to the starting position.
- Hold the top of the pushup for a one-count, then repeat.
A2) Gorilla Row
Reps: 10 to 12 per side
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart or slightly wider, with two kettlebells or dumbbells between your feet.
- Hinge your hips back and bend your knees until you can reach the handles of both weights.
- Grasping both weights firmly, row the weight in your right hand up on a controlled count of two. Without pausing at the top of the row, lower the weight quickly but with control. Pause in the extended position for a one-count, then repeat on the same side.
- As you row up with one side, push down into the opposite weight on the floor. Allow your upper body to rotate and open slightly with each rep, but don’t allow your hips to rise up or sway.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps, then switch sides.
⊗ Then move to block 2.
Block 2: Upper-Body Strength
Avoid rushing through the movements, and follow the tempo notations (refer to the Workout Overview for an explanation of the tempo notations)
B1) Alternating Chest Press
Reps: 10 to 12 per side
- Grasping a set of dumbbells, lie back on a flat bench. Extend your arms with control to press the weights up.
- Lower one dumbbell to your chest on a controlled count of three while keeping the opposite weight pressing up. Without pausing at the bottom of the movement, press the weight back up explosively.
- Hold that weight up for the count of three it takes to lower the opposite dumbbell.
- Repeat in this fashion, alternating sides for the desired number of reps.
B2) Resistance-Band Seated Row
Reps: 10 to 12
- Begin in a seated position with your legs extended in front of you, knees slightly bent. Secure the middle of a resistance band around the soles of your feet (or around a sturdy ankle-height object).
- Grasp the handles with palms facing each other and arms fully extended in front of you.
- With abs engaged and maintaining a tall, neutral spine, pull the handles to your waist on a controlled count of two. Keep your elbows close to your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Without pausing, reverse the movement quickly but with control, extending your arms to return to the starting position.
- Without pausing, repeat.
⊕ Perform three rounds of block 2, alternating between the exercises labeled B1 and B2.
⊗ Then move to the 15 minute AMRAP Conditioning Set.
AMRAP: Conditioning Circuit
Perform the exercises in order, completing as many rounds and good-form reps as you can in 15 minutes.
Bear Crawl Forward 30 steps
- Assume an all-fours position, with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Tuck your toes, engage your core to keep your back flat and parallel to the floor, and actively press through your hands and the balls of your feet to raise your knees 2 to 3 inches off the floor.
- Maintaining a neutral neck and spine, and a soft forward gaze, move your right foot and left hand forward about 6 to 8 inches. Next, move your left foot and right hand forward. Keep moving your opposite hand and foot with each step.
- Keep your hips low — at or slightly higher than shoulder height — with each step.
Bear Crawl Backward 30 steps
- Assume an all-fours position.
- Actively press through your hands and the balls of your feet to raise your knees 2 to 3 inches off the floor.
- Maintaining a neutral neck and spine, step your right foot and left hand backward. Then step your left foot and right hand backward.
Clean and Push Press
Reps x 15
- Stand with your feet hip width apart, grasping dumbbells at your sides. Bend your knees, hips, and ankles slightly, then reverse the motion to raise the dumbbells into the air. The movement should feel explosive.
- Catch the dumbbells at shoulder height.
- Again, bend your knees, hips, and ankles slightly, then fully extend them to lift the dumbbells overhead.
- Lower the dumbbells first to your shoulders and then to your sides before repeating.
Reps x 10 per side
- Begin standing with your feet shoulder width apart and holding a single dumbbell with both hands. Bend your knees and rotate your body until the dumbbell is next to the outside of your right foot. Rotate your torso to the left and, using power from your hips, raise the weight up and across your body to your left shoulder.
- Bend your knees and lower the weight so it is outside of your left foot, and repeat the motion in the opposite direction, rotating your body to the right and raising the weight to your right shoulder.
- Repeat, alternating sides with each repetition.
Reps x 30 reps
- Start in a low-plank position, on your elbows and with your core engaged.
- Without moving your hands or compromising your core engagement, jump your feet out to the side and land softly on the balls of your feet, just wider than shoulder width. Don’t let your hips hike up or dip down as you jump.
- Jump your feet back in with control.
⊕ Perform the AMRAP exercises in order, completing as many rounds and good-form reps as you can in 15 minutes.
Ogden recommends the following cool-down routine, emphasizing breathwork and stretching.
Once you’ve caught your breath and feel your heart rate returning to normal, perform the following five moves in order. Hold each stretch for three to five breaths (per side, if applicable).
1) Box Breathing
Perform three to five rounds.
- Slowly inhale to a 4 count.
- Hold that breath to a 4 count.
- Exhale to a 4 count.
- Hold to a 4 count. Repeat.
2) Knee Hug
Hold each side for at least five breaths.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Raise your thighs to your chest and grasp your legs just under the knees.
- Gently pull your bent knees toward your torso while trying to relax your lower back toward the floor.
- You can perform this stretch by hugging both knees to your chest at once or by raising them one at a time. If doing the one-legged version, you can plant the opposite foot on the floor or extend the leg straight out on the floor.
- Hold this position for at least five breaths.
Hold each side for at least five breaths.
- Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor.
- Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Flex your right foot.
- Keeping the right foot flexed, raise your left foot and draw the left knee toward your chest. If you are able, reach your hands forward and grasp your left leg.
- Hold the stretch for at least five breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.
4) Side-Body Twist
Hold each side for five breaths.
- Lie on your back and hug your knees to your chest.
- Extend your left leg on the floor, continuing to draw your right knee toward your chest.
- Keeping your shoulders on the floor and your left leg straight, slowly rotate your lower body to the left. Allow your right knee to roll over the left and let it hang loosely as gravity and your breath help you move deeper into the pose.
- Extend both arms at your sides, perpendicular to your body. You can also place your left hand on the outside of the right knee to gently enhance the stretch — but, again, don’t push hard.
- Hold for five breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.
5) Child’s Pose
Hold for at least five breaths.
- Kneeling on a mat with toes together and knees slightly apart, lower your hips and drop your forehead toward the floor.
- Reach your arms forward and hold for at least five breaths.