What is Eccentric Training?
We have all seen that guy in the gym. Lifting too heavy, terrible technique, complete disregard for their own joints or the equipment. This is not just a quintessential eccentric, it is wilful witlessness.
This page is a safe space and now that I have got that off my chest let’s talk about what eccentric training really is.
Our muscles can contract in three ways: concentric, isometric and eccentric.
The lifting stage of a bicep curl as you bend the elbow is a concentric contraction. If you were to pause at any point of that lift and hold it there under tension that would be a static or isometric contraction. The lowering part as you straighten your elbow is the eccentric part.
Most of the time people will focus on the concentric or lifting part of the movement and with good reason. It is functional, it will feel like the effort part of the exercise and the target muscle will be working. Your muscle will contract as it shortens. Lowering the weight or coming out of the lift in the exercise is an eccentric contraction, and the muscle lengthens during this contraction.
You do this all the time without realising. Going down the stairs, sitting on the sofa or leaning in for a kiss. But you don’t always target it specifically during your training. Unless you’re booked in with Adam on hump day.
When the eccentric contraction (lowering) is ignored during weightlifting it can lead to a loss of control. Typically, you will see this as someone swings as they work hard to lift the weight and then relax, swinging back and letting the weight drop back with gravity instead of managing it correctly.
There are multiple benefits to focusing on eccentric training which you can insert into your routine. A good place to start is to focus on taking about 5 seconds to lower the load during an exercise to get the desired impact.
Strength – the force exerted by the muscles during contractions will increase.
Power – the maximum explosive force exerted will improve, such as jumping or a sprint start.
Hypertrophy – dem gainz will lead to muscle growth, often using “negatives”. To maximise your output you can get a training partner or PT to assist you lifting more than you could alone and then you lower it solo and slow. A bench press would be a good example. You could not push that bar up but you can lower it during the eccentric stage. Your muscles can produce between 20-50% greater torque during the lowering stage. In addition, negatives can be used at the end of sets when you’ve knackered the concentric stage.
Control – doing exercises correctly will lead to better results and minimise risks of injury. It will also make you more likely to be used as a role model and not be that guy!
Flexibility – mobility and functionality will improve. It’s not often the primary reason for doing it but it has still shown improvements to range of motion.
Rehab – Eccentric training has been a really effective method in tendinopathy rehab and has been very useful in treating something like Achilles injuries. The Nordic curl is a fantastic exercise that helps rehab hamstrings as well. On top of that it will make them more robust, thus preventing injury.
Variation / Plateau Busting – added stimulation through variety is a great bonus. You will avoid boredom and it can also be a practical solution. You might have a sticking point in an exercise when you feel you cannot lift more during a certain stage of a move. A great example would be pull ups. Struggling to reach all the way up, it may feel counterintuitive but working on the lowering stage as slowly as possible can unlock the upside. Working the eccentric phase when you feel you’ve hit a wall can help you conquer that obstacle and keep your progress going.
Examples of Eccentric Exercises to try:
Press Up – lower for 5 seconds and push up hard.
Nordic Curls – with feet fixed, lower your body forward as slowly as possible before you tip over.
Bicep Curls – lower the load with complete control and stability.
Leg Press – extend the legs until straight, then slowly lower as your knees come towards your chest.
Good luck, let the gym team know if you need any assistance. In the meantime if I see you swinging eccentrically you will be named and shamed in the next post!