Today we are going to talk about the “eccentric” portion of the lift. It is something that is quite often abused. What do I mean by that? I mean it’s not done correctly! Which for a strength, power, or bodybuilding athlete is simply no good.
You can gain strength and put on a lot of muscle by focusing on the eccentric phase of your lifts. It has now become well accepted that the muscle lengthening motion of an exercise triggers hypertrophy the most, and doing eccentric-enhanced training is a dependable method of gaining strength at the very the same time.
Eccentric-enhanced training is extremely effective and I’m going to explain WHY you should be doing it. Please continue to read below.
The eccentric phase is when the muscle is lengthening and the concentric phase is when the muscle is shortening. For example, the eccentric phase of a squat, biceps curl, or deadlift is the lowering motion. You are stronger during the eccentric phase (lowering part) of any lift—as much as 1.75 times as strong as during the concentric phase (the pushing upwards portion.) Therefore, you can lift much heavier weights eccentrically than you can concentrically, which allows you to train the higher threshold motor units.
Why is this good? Because they allow for maximum muscle stimulation and even more so maximum strength! I’ve seen guys add 40/50lbs to their bench press in a matter of 4 weeks using this form of training.
Now one thing that is extremely important, and you have to remember, is that the eccentric phase causes much more muscle damage and leads to greater rates of protein synthesis post-workout. Training that includes a concentric phase as well as an eccentric phase, especially an eccentric-enhanced phase (such as one with a longer time under tension) will cause the most muscle damage. Which means “what?” exactly? It means you will build bigger muscle and develop a lot of strength.
The eccentric phase uses less energy or ATP than the concentric motion. This means you can perform more work eccentrically and this, of course, as positive and negative implications for body composition and muscle development.
With those basics out of the way, let’s look at a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise that compared eccentric-enhanced training with traditional training. Training was twice a week for 16 weeks, and the traditional protocol involved two sets of 10 reps at 75 percent of the 1RM using four exercises for the major muscle groups. The eccentric-enhanced training involved a unique training scheme. Participants performed three sets of 10 using a weight of 50 percent of the 1RM. They performed the concentric portion of the lift bilaterally and the eccentric portion unilaterally, alternating between left and right limbs for each repetition and performing five eccentric contractions per limb per set.
Results showed that the eccentric-enhanced group had greater increases in strength, especially at higher movement speeds, which indicates greater fast-twitch muscle development. There was also evidence of greater muscle development in the quadriceps from the eccentric-enhanced training than traditional. Cross-sectional area of the vastus lateralis increased in the eccentric group only.
Now this isn’t the only study like this. In fact, numerous other studies can confirm that eccentric-enhanced training will produce greater hypertrophy and preferentially grow the fast-twitch fibers, which are of course best for maximal hypertrophy. The reason for that is because these fibers can grow more than slow-twitch fibers.
One well known study that compared concentric-only and eccentric-only training showed that at the end of 12 weeks, the fast-twitch type II fibers increased 10 times more in the eccentric-only group than the concentric-only group. 10 times more! Imagine that the potential to build muscle 10 times faster. Now I have your attention, eh? The slow-twitch fibers didn’t increase significantly in either group. Of course, as mentioned above, training that includes both motions but is eccentric-enhanced is better for maximal strength and muscle gains.
There are various advanced methods to perform eccentric training with special equipment, but the easiest way is to program and then modify the tempo of the eccentric phase of every lift you perform. For example, instead of spending one second on the up phase of a bicep curl and then just dropping the weight with gravity, you can spend one second on the up and four or six seconds lowering the weight.
Playing with various tempos will allow you to train higher threshold motor units, trigger protein synthesis, and of course more importantly gain size. More advanced methods of focusing on the eccentric phase include using special hooks with added weight that will hang on the end of a barbell and drop off when the barbell reaches the lowest point. This results in a lighter load for the up phase of the lift But a much heavier load for the lower portion and it works extremely well.
Now this is not the only thing that eccentric training can do for you. Oh no, aside from producing much greater gains in strength and of course size, eccentric-enhanced training also provides a large variety and novelty to workouts. For example, in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise study, participants rated the eccentric-enhanced protocol as less difficult than the traditional protocol on a rating of perceived exertion scale. They also found it more enjoyable, despite having it “feel” easier.
Basically what I’m trying to say is that eccentric enhanced training is ideal for all populations because it can trigger the most muscle building and strength gains for the work done, but it’s not prohibitively difficult. Due to the many variations available with tempo and special equipment, focusing on the eccentric phase will help athletes, body builders, the general population, and the deconditioned to get better results. Never let the weight just drop with gravity.
I can’t stress the importance of eccentric training. Now I wouldnt make every exercise in my routine focused this way, but let me give you a little bit of advice and ways you can implement this into your training routine.
Let’s say you are training chest and back on the same day. You want to build up your chest. For the bench press portion we’d do the bench press with chains 40 to 60lbs of chains added. We’d have to lower the weight slightly for the concentric portion of the lift, but the eccentric would now have 50/60lbs more than you are usually capable of lifting, leading to a lot of motor recruitment and bigger strength and mass gains.
Let’s say you do 5×5 on this or 5×10 etc. Once you are done you’d go complete the rest of your training as usual.
This would prevent you from “burning out” but at the same time allows you to reap the benefits offered by this type of training!
Until next time be sure to comment below and discuss this article in details!