For optimum performance in no matter what you are moving for, it can be very beneficial to mix up your tempo. In life, there are time we need to move in many different speeds under varying conditions. Often we need to move at different tempos in one demand.
I will use chainsaw work in my own life as an example. Someone is paying you to remove trees from their land, so your natural tempo is one of determined pacing, no lolly-gagging right? But if you move too fast you could start to make mistakes and one of them could have dire consequences. You also have to maintain energy to keep your tempo all day or for the duration of the job. So when i clear brush, and the saw is off, its more about putting the head down and getting the s&^T done at a pretty fast pace. Now after that is done and i resume cutting, i must strategize my next move and make a quick scan of the conditions, has the wind picked up, what is the terrain like and where will i drop the next group of trees. I move in for the cut and first clear an area around the tree so i have an escape path, my pace here is brisk but methodical. Now before i begin my cut i must now SLOW DOWN..analyze the situation depending on the size of tree, the lean, the terrain, the wind and i plan out where i will notch the tree so it falls where i want it. As i finish the cut i am cutting and simultaneously planning my escape route depending on all the the fore mentioned factors. If I did everything right in the slow phase and it all goes well then I shouldn’t need to jump out of the way but…things don’t always go well and sometimes i have had to leap out of the way and not doing so and being too slow could have really hurt.
Now all of the above could happen in the course of 5 minutes..hauling brush from what i cut so heart rate is up, pretty strenuous efforts then slowing down despite breathing heavily and making rational decisions etc. I employ this same mentality in my own movement practice and into the programming of my clients programs too. It seems that most people today default to speed mode in regards to movement/exercise and some training protocols focus on that nearly every time(x-fit for example). But interesting things happen when we slow down, like way down to the point of slow dripping molasses. Our body has to adapt to this and our stabilizers in particular have to go into overdrive. Gravity becomes obvious here and many are quickly surprised at the difficulty of doing 20 second “attempts” or reps vs. 6-8 seconds during our regular attempts. Many struggle with this and of course this struggle, yields physiological adaptations if applied just enough but not too often. I also feel that slow tempo can be very beneficial after injury or in the initial phases or foundation building of a practice. Remember there is so much going on to just get down to the ground and up with control. Our whole central nervous system goes into action mode after getting signals from our proprioceptors and our vestibular system so it can it can move, dynamically and do what we ask of it.
Now it is also very important to move fast and have the ability to explode powerfully! If we only move slow then well we move slow. We very much need to be able to produce force quickly and also slow that force down quickly. Not being able to do this often results in injury especially in the spiral plane(transverse). But the key here is to be able to move well at speed. Speed should not come at the expense of quality. Our posture needs to maintain alignment whatever the demand or tempo. It is the loss of posture integrity that usually is a precursor to a movement being “unsuccessful”or failed. (though i think really only NOT moving is failed).
So how do you implement this into your sessions? Well to keep it simple, lets use a basic walk down a 2×4 board(or any thing similar) as an example. During your first attempt, walk as slowly as you can while still moving forward with all the elements of good movement in mind(posture, breathing, tension/relaxation). Take 20 seconds to walk down an 8 foot beam. Now do the same backwards. After that get off the beam for a second, re focus, and get back on and do a 10 second attempt forward and back. For your final attempt, go across it fast of course trying not to fall off. What did you find or learn? Could you maintain balance during? Did you notice when you went fast you lost some movement quality?
Now you could apply this to any move in your repertoire. How about the Turkish Get-up? Or to keep it even more basic, a squat. Start slow and maybe do 5 attempts, move to medium and do 10 and finally, fast and do 20. After you have experimented with that you can change up your tempos within a combination of movements. Lets say a really slow forward crawl for 10 yards then right into a “normal” paced round of sandbag carries across a beam, then do an inverted crawl(sloth crawl) across a beam/pullup bar whatever, then onto a sprint from the beam to 50 yards away, then once you get there, do VERY slow squats and so on..mix up your tempo maintain your breathing and posture and proper body tension and relaxation depending upon the demand. Your breathing can be a great guide when you are doing this. Can you maintain powerful breathing and maintain that as you begin to fatigue. You have to adapt to every demand just as nature intended. A lion is chasing you, and you had better f*^%^*ing RUN, but if you’re making love you better be able to go slow or your gonna have some lonely nights in your future.
Food for thought, let us know what you find and fire away with questions as always!