Eccentric Training = Better Results, Less Work
Most people like the idea of getting better results with less work. Eccentric training is one way to do this. Research show that focusing on the eccentric, or lengthening, phase of a lift will produce superior hypertrophy, strength, and power—if you program properly.
To ensure everyone is on the same page, here are definitions related to the phase of muscle contractions:
The eccentric phase of a lift occurs when a muscle lengthens. This is the down motion of the bench press, biceps curl, or squat.
The concentric phase of a lift occurs when a muscle contracts and shortens, as in the up motion of the bench press, biceps curl, or squat.
The isometric phase of a lift is when a muscle contracts but no movement occurs, such as during a plank when you hold yourself in a static position.
There are several interesting differences between concentric and eccentric muscle motions besides whether the muscle is contracting or lengthening.
First, you are as much as 1.75 times stronger during the eccentric motion than the concentric phase. This is why you can lower more weight in the bench press or deadlift than you can raise. As such, to overload a muscle eccentrically you must use a longer eccentric contraction or use more weight than you can lift concentrically.
Second, the eccentric motion of an exercise is when the most muscle damage occurs. Conversely, concentric training leads to negligible muscle damage and therefore rarely leads to muscle soreness, which can be useful for athletes who need to avoid getting sore for competitions.
Third, eccentric training is associated with greater muscle hypertrophy, especially for the powerful type II muscle fibers, than both concentric-only training or conventional training that does not emphasize the lengthening motion. Studies show eccentric training leads to greater protein synthesis and greater motor unit recruitment. It also causes an increase in hormones including insulin-like growth factor-1 and growth hormone. These factors translate to an increase in muscle fiber length, which would likely contribute to increased force production and explosive ability.
How To Program Eccentric Training
There are several ways of incorporating eccentric training into workouts based on training background:
For novices and intermediate trainees, using a longer eccentric tempo is the simplest way of taking advantage of this training tool. If you slow down the eccentric motion and increase the duration it takes to perform the movement to 3 to 6 seconds, it’s possible to accentuate the lengthening portion of a lift and apply greater stimulus.
For novices, an eccentric tempo of 3 or 4 seconds is standard with a faster concentric motion of 1 second. As you progress, longer eccentric tempos can be used to overload the muscle and stimulate strength and hypertrophy increases.
For more advanced trainees, you can use special equipment to emphasize the eccentric motion and get superior results. This is generally done with eccentric hooks that add weight, which you put on the end of a barbell. Loading varies with some studies using supramaximal weights (120 to 150 percent of the concentric 1 RM) and others showing benefits from submaximal weights.
The latter is evident in a study of athletes that tested the effect of four submaximal loads for increasing concentric power. In this study, eccentric hooks were used on the barbell to test loads of 40, 60, 70, and 80 kg for the eccentric motion in college athletes. Then the athletes explosively bench pressed or “threw” a 40 kg bar and power output was measured. Results showed that the heavier eccentric loads (60, 70, and 80 kg) allowed the athletes to produce greater concentric power than the 40 kg load. The greatest concentric acceleration was produced with the heaviest 80 kg load.
For experienced, advanced trainees, using supramaximal loads of 120 to 150 percent of the concentric 1RM can produce superior results. With supramaximal training, you lower the extra load using a prescribed tempo, the eccentric hooks drop off when they hit the floor, and you raise the weight with the lighter load. Due to the need for heavy loading, this form of eccentric training is only recommended in individuals with excellent training technique, a high level of motor control, and baseline strength throughout the body.
What Types of Exercises Are Best For Eccentric Training?
Although any exercise can be adapted to emphasize the eccentric motion, certain motions are popular because of biomechanics and fiber type differences in muscles. For example, exercise that emphasize the hamstrings are great for eccentric-enhanced training, such as hamstring curls, split squats, back squats, chin-ups, bench press, and biceps curls are other exercises that can benefit from eccentric training.
Final Words: Eccentric training is one of the most powerful tools you should have in your exercise toolbox. Learning how to use it properly will let you quickly achieve your goals, whether they are to build strength or pack on muscle.
McNeill, C., et al. Survey of Eccentric-Based Strength and Conditioning Practices in Sport. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2020. PAP.
Paddon-Jones, D., et al.. Adaptation to chronic eccentric exercise in humans: The influence of contraction velocity. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2001. 85: 466–471.