Tempo: Tempo has a massive influence on the effect a rep or set has on the muscle(s) we’re training and the stimulus we are trying to achieve. If you are not familiar with reading tempo, please refer to the article Understanding Tempo. (If you aren’t using tempo in your workouts I HIGHLY recommend you start ASAP).
Just compare a squat with a 3010 tempo (3 second eccentric immediately into a 1 second concentric) to a squat with a 3210 tempo, which is adding a 2 second pause at the bottom of that squat. Pretty significant difference in the amount of work for your quads and glutes, right? There’s no accounting for tempo in the traditional volume equation.
It’s not just about “time under tension” (TUT) either. It’s about time under significant tension (TUST). The amount of work added to a rep with the tempo must also be paired with the resistance profile of an exercise. Spending time where the exercise is hardest (where there is significant tension) is DRASTICALLY different than pausing where there is little to no tension. For example, using a 3012 tempo on a squat may be considered more time under tension because each rep takes longer, but during those 2 seconds at the top there is minimal (if any) tension on your quads and glutes because the load is just stacked on your spine and joints.
Changing the tempo or even using it as a method of progression in a well-designed program can have a massive influence on the stimulus created within each set and for the overall workout. There is much more we can dive into with tempos, but it is beyond the scope of this article. (Teaser: the tempo you use can change the resistance profile of an exercise)
Rest Periods: Remember the dumbbell example from earlier? Ok good. So we already saw that the same amount of weight moved can result in very different stimuli depending on how the sets and reps are programmed. Now let’s discuss factoring in rest periods.
Changing the rest period may allow you to use more or less weight for the same number of sets and reps. However, you might be getting a greater degree of a metabolic stimulus. A perfect example of this is the incomplete rest method. It’s highly effective for achieving a local metabolic stimulus but might not seem like much “volume” compared to using a longer rest period.
Let’s say you progressed your workout by decreasing the rest periods a little and were able to maintain the same weight. You technically made your workout more dense and have increased the metabolic stimulus of that exercise or super set (depending how your workout is structured). Your “reps x weight” number stayed the same, but you increased the stimulus achieved, which means you made progress from the last workout.
Still with me so far? I know it can be a lot to take in, especially if you are newer to some of these concepts. But just like any skill, it takes practice to get really good at this stuff. It’s also why we try to take care of some of the more complex things like proper progressions and volumes for different stimuli in the workout programs.
So now, with the addition of tempo and rest periods in our math analogy, you’ve now graduated to trigonometry!
Just like in trig, there can be multiple solutions to an equation (more than one way to achieve a stimulus when writing a workout) and there are some points that just don’t exist in certain equations (certain set/rep schemes that just don’t go with some stimuli).
Yes, I know I’m a nerd for making this math analogy. But hopefully you’re a bit of a fitness nerd too and want to make the most of your training by learning some of these important concepts 🙂
Now, on to the part that REALLY messes with the whole “volume” tracking fetish that some people get caught up in.