What is it Good For?
We all heard it thousands of times. How much can you lift? Just about everyone that works out simply “lifts” weights, never putting much thought into properly lowering the load during exercises. Everyone has done it, while were doing a set we simply drop the weight rapidly from the top of the lift back to the bottom with absolutely no control during the lowering portion. But little did we know the lowering part of each repetition is equally as important if not more as just lifting the weight.
In order to better understand how the lowering (Eccentric) portion works, we are going to look at some of the main benefits of eccentric training or negatives and why you should implement this strategy right away!
What is Eccentric Training?
As we briefly mentioned above, believe it or not if you have done some form of weight training, you also have certainly done at least some eccentric movements.
While we perform any sort of weight bearing movement, two types of muscle contractions are involved, concentric and eccentric. Now, to understand eccentric contractions we must first know a little more about the concentric ones first.
Concentric or positive contractions shorten our muscles, for example, while performing a bicep curl our bicep muscles tighten or shorten when the dumbbell goes up. And eccentric contractions, are just the opposite. During the lower portion of the movement when we drop the weight, the muscles are forcibly lengthened. Or simplified, eccentric contractions slow down the movements (reduce/slow/stop) while the gravity is pulling them down, which is why they are called eccentric or negative contractions.
Pull ups are another very common example you should be able to relate to. When you are performing a pull up, your back muscles prevent your body from falling too fast and too quickly down. This helps you to control the whole pulling movement.
Now that you have a basic idea of what an eccentric contraction is, let us see what sort of benefits eccentric training can provide.
Methods of Eccentric Training
Eccentric or negative rep training is very useful for bodybuilders and other fitness enthusiasts who want to increase their muscular development since this technique overloads the muscles, helping them to achieve hypertrophy. By overloading muscle eccentric training creates tears in the muscle fibers which rebuild themselves bigger and stronger as time passes (1). In short there is more time under tension which causes more neural fatigue. In addition to tiring your nervous system, you also have to recruit more muscle fiber to help with the slowing or stopping of the load.
Using eccentric training at the begging of each workout session can significantly impact strength performance. Available research clearly shows that implementing negative or eccentric repetitions can increase the 1RM (the maximum amount of weight one can lift) by a worthy degree (2). By challenging our muscle this way, we are able to recruit faster twitch muscle fibers to work through the lift. The body will respond by rebuilding more and stronger fast twitch muscle fibers so that we can meet the challenge next time, increasing the overall strength, including both concentric and eccentric portions of every movement.
Plateaus are definitely one of the more frustrating parts of working out. However, this issue can be easily fixed by using eccentric movements after each given set is finished. For example, say you are performing a set of barbell bicep curls with 50 lbs on the bar. If you can perform 8 reps on your own, after you finish the 8 reps you would get help from a training partner or you would swing the weight back up and squeeze out two to three forced (eccentric) reps. You would lower the bar very slowly during the eccentric phase to experience the full benefits from them. This method of training produces extraordinary results in terms of plateau busting (3).
Believe it or not, eccentric training can even prevent injuries. Our muscles have actually an optimum length for producing peak contractions, and as muscle lengthens beyond their optimal length, tension levels decrease. This descending portion of tension is thought to be the region of high vulnerability in which muscle injuries occur often. Many experts believe that athletes who induce peak tension at shorter than normal muscle lengths are more likely to suffer from acute muscle strains. Fortunately, this problem can be solved with eccentric training. This form of training is found to consistently increase the optimum length of tension, meaning that with time our muscles and tendons can have a lower risk of injury (4).
Methods of Eccentric Training
Here are some of the more popular eccentric training methods out there:
This method of eccentric training requires the attention of a training buddy, allowing it to be completely safe. The weight used will be approximately 100-140% of your 3RM, or in other words the maximum amount of weight you can lift for three reps. You should not lift the weight during the concentric portion of the lift, you’re spotter, coach, or trainer lifts the weight for you and from the starting position you release the weight slowly, pushing you to the limit.
This method also requires the help from a spotter. Eccentric finishers are performed after you finish a given set, the spotter will then lift the weight up and you will do slow and control movements for as many eccentric reps you can. This method achieves momentary muscular failure.
Emphasized Eccentric Training
Finally a form of eccentric training that doesn’t require the guidance of a spotter. Emphasized eccentrics are very safe as they use the lightest weight possibly with a complete control of the lifter. The basic goal of these eccentrics is to gradually increase the length of time it takes to lower the weight during a set.
Manual Eccentric Training
Another method that doesn’t require a spotter, and is strictly performed on machines. Manual eccentrics basically involve a movement that allows you to use one or both of your arms or legs. You simply performed the concentric portion with both arms or legs while the eccentric phase is execute with only one arm or leg at a very slow speed.An example would be doing a two legged calf raise and at the top of the movement raise one leg off the ground, then slowly lower down on one leg only.Repeat and switch legs.
Manual Eccentric Movements
As the name may suggest, this form of eccentric training allows you to perform both concentric and eccentric portions of any movement at a maximum pace without waiting for the end of a set. This accomplishes best muscular fatigue for both concentric and eccentric contractions.
How to Incorporate Eccentric Training into Your Routine
First of all, eccentric training is not suitable for beginners that have less than 6 months of proper training. This is an advanced training technique and should be done by experienced lifers.
Eccentric training is best performed with a spotter/partner. Since you will be using a lot of weight it would be in your best interest to have a workout body that will help you. This way you will lift safely and more effectively.
It is crucial that you don’t over exhaust the muscles. This means that you don’t need to hit failure each set you perform.
Just like your regular strength training, eccentric training also depends on progression. Each workout session try to add more weight, this weigh you will be able to induce growth and more power.
Recovery is very important with eccentric training since it breaks down more muscle fiber than regular lifting. For this reason, it is crucial to increase recovery if needed in order to be properly recovered for your next training. It could take up to 4 days or 96hrs to fully recover.
Muscle soreness may be an indicator that you need more recovery. If you experience this, prolong you recovery period. It could take up to 4 days or 96hrs to fully recover.
And lastly, you don’t have to use eccentrics for every exercise you perform. Incorporate eccentric training in to your routine, but don’t focus on it solely.