I exercise regularly and love lifting weights. When I want to challenge myself, I whack some extra weight on my barbell or try squeezing out a few extra repetitions. However, there is another way to ramp up the difficulty of an exercise, which is by doing it at a slower pace.
That's the idea behind this recent workout featured in Schwarzenegger's Pump Club newsletter. The session is based around two foundational exercises, the push-up and squat, but you're challenged to do them at a leisurely "5:3:1" tempo.
This means you take five seconds to lower your body, pause for three seconds at the bottom of each movement, then drive explosively back to the starting position. Doing this increases the amount of time the working muscles are under tension.
As a long-time barbell lover, my interest was piqued by the idea of a slower-paced bodyweight workout that could help me build muscle at home, so I decided to test it out.
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How to do Arnold Schwarzenegger's 'Max Tension Workout'
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There are scaling options for this workout, so you can adapt it to your fitness levels.
Perform five rounds of the following, using the 5:3:1 tempo. You can make the push-ups easier by lowering your knees to the ground or placing your hands on an elevated surface.
- Push-ups: 3-5 repetitions
- Squats: 3-5 repetitions
- Rest: Two minutes
Perform five rounds of the following, using the 5:3:1 tempo
- Push-ups: 5-10 repetitions
- Squats: 5-10 repetitions
- Rest: One minute
Perform five rounds of the following, using the 5:3:1 tempo for the push-ups and squats. Rest as little as possible between rounds.
- Push-ups: 10 repetitions
- Plank: One minute
- Squats: 10 repetitions
My takeaways from Arnold Schwarzenegger's 'max tension workout' challenge
Before starting the advanced version of this workout, I was confident I could handle 50 push-ups and squats along with a few planks; I'm used to doing longer high-repetition workouts in my regular CrossFit training sessions.
However, the slower tempo made the push-ups much more challenging. I can normally rattle through 10 repetitions (reps) in a matter of seconds, but by using the 5:3:1 tempo my chest, shoulder and triceps muscles were made to work for more than a minute at a time.
The result? These muscles were on fire by rep 10. By round three I couldn't manage the full 10 reps, and had to drop my knees to the floor and rest for a few seconds before finishing off the set.
On the flipside, I didn't find the squats too difficult. In fact, I'd probably add a light dumbbell or kettlebell to this move if I was doing the workout again. I'd also be tempted to add a third bodyweight exercise that works the back muscles, such as a superman pull-up, to turn it into a full-body workout.
But before making any changes, I'd advise anyone to give this workout a go as written. It's a fun, effective and accessible way to challenge your muscles without weights—I certainly felt the effects in my chest the next day.
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Harry Bullmore is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering accessible home workouts, strength training session, and yoga routines. He joined the team from Hearst, where he reviewed products for Men's Health, Women's Health, and Runner's World. He is passionate about the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and splits his time between weightlifting, CrossFit, and gymnastics, which he does to build strength, boost his wellbeing, and have fun.
Harry is a NCTJ-qualified journalist, and has written for Vice, Learning Disability Today, and The Argus, where he was a crime, politics, and sports reporter for several UK regional and national newspapers.
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