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During strength training there are three types of contraction which is used to describe how each muscle is changing throughout the movement. These are known as the eccentric phase, the concentric phase and the isometric phase.
3 Types Of Muscle Contraction
Let’s look at the biceps curl exercise to better explain each portion of the movement.
When performing biceps curls the concentric contraction of the muscle happens when you curl the dumbbell or cable attachment up and towards you. This causes the biceps brachii to shorten allowing the muscle to generate enough force to move the weight. Simply put, concentric movements involve lifting or raising weight up.
The isometric contraction of a bicep curl is to hold the dumbbell in a static position. Tension is created without any change to the length of the muscle. Any holding position at either the bottom or top of the movement would be considered an isometric exercise.
The eccentric muscle contraction takes place when the dumbbell is being lowered back down. The muscle therefore lengthens, resulting in a stretch under tension. The bicep muscle is working hard to decelerate the movement by resisting gravitational forces. An eccentric movement is to lower weight.
Eccentric training, sometimes called negative training, is becoming more popular due to its effectiveness at increasing muscle mass. In this article we’re going to suggest some eccentric exercises using free weights that specifically target the biceps.
Eccentric Bicep Exercises
Eccentric Preacher Curl
Preacher curls are an excellent movement for isolating the biceps whilst providing support to your upper body. If you don’t have access to a dedicated preacher curl bench, you can set an adjustable bench back pad on an incline. If doing this, you’ll allow be able to train one arm at a time.
How To Do The Eccentric Preacher Curl:
- Set up your bench and position yourself so that the edge of the pad is tucked under your armpits with triceps and elbows resting on the pad.
- Take hold of the weight with a supinated grip. This is the beginning position.
- Keeping your upper arms in place, bend at the elbow joint only to raise the weight up and towards you.
- Pause at the top and lower back down for a count of 4 to 5 seconds and then repeat.
A concentration curl movement is a great way of working the peak of the biceps helping to increase muscle size.
You’ll need access to a weight bench and dumbbell. As with all exercises, be sure to perform the movement with a full range of motion for proper biceps activation.
How To Do The Concentration Curl:
- Start by taking a seat on your bench and position your legs so that you can rest the elbow of your working arm on your inner thigh.
- Place your free hand on the top of your leg for support.
- Take hold of the dumbbell with a supinated grip (palm facing forward). This is your starting position.
- Keeping your chest and head up curl the dumbbell up to your chest. Ensure your elbow remains resting on your thigh.
- From here, lower back down slowly for a count of 5 seconds and repeat.
The hammer curl is very similar to a regular biceps curl but instead of your palms facing forwards, they face inwards. This variation allows for activation of the elbow flexors, brachioradialis and brachialis.
You’ll need a pair of dumbbells to perform this exercise and you can either train one arm at a time or both together.
How To Do The Hammer Curl:
- Stand upright whilst holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Your wrists should be in a neutral position with your palms facing inwards.
- Engage your core and curl the dumbbells towards you by flexing your elbows.
- Pause at the top and then begin to lower back down for a count of 5 seconds.
Seated Bicep Curls
Biceps curls will effectively isolate the biceps and by using dumbbells as opposed to a barbell will better allow for your body mechanics.
If you perform this movement seated, this will allow you to execute this exercise with a greater range of motion with less chance of using your legs as momentum. Aim for a higher rep range with lighter weights.
How To Do A Seated Bicep Curl:
- Set the back pad of your bench to around 70 degrees.
- Grab your dumbbells and take a seat keeping your feet flat on the ground.
- Start with arms hanging down by your sides with your palms facing forwards.
- Using just elbow flexion, curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders. You should feel your biceps muscles contract.
- Keeping tension to your core, lower the dumbbells back down to the start for a count of 5 seconds.
The Zottman curl is a combination of the regular supinated biceps curl and the hammer curl. Aside from working the biceps, it can also help to strengthen the forearms and improve grip strength. This is because there is an increased overload during the eccentric part of the movement.
During the concentric phase, you’ll activate the short head of the biceps. Conversely, the eccentric phase will better activate the long head of the biceps.
How To Do The Zottman Curl:
- Start by standing upright holding a pair of dumbbells with a supinated grip (palms facing away).
- Brace your core and curl the dumbbells up towards you whilst keeping your elbows tucked into your sides.
- At the top of the movement, rotate your wrists inwards until your palms face each other.
- Keeping your elbows tucked in, lower the weights down for a count of 4 to 5 seconds and then repeat.
EZ Bar Curl
Another curl variation, the ez bar curl makes use of an undulated shape bar that helps to decrease pressure to the wrist joints making it more comfortable to perform.
How To Do An EZ Bar Curl:
- Stand upright holding the bar in front of you. Your elbows should be fully extended with palms facing away. The angle of the grip will mean your hands are slightly rotated inwards.
- Engage your core and curl the bar up towards your chest.
- Pause for a second or two.
- Lower the bar back down for a count of around 5 seconds.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Benefits of Eccentric Exercise
The eccentric contraction of a lift has been proven to increase muscle hypertrophy when compared to both the concentric and isometric phases. However, it should not be performed exclusively, as this could lead to over training and plateau.
Limits Chance of Injury
When performing exercise, it’s very common to perform the concentric phase slowly and pause at the top but then quickly ‘drop’ the weight back down. But by doing so, you not only reduce optimal muscle growth you can put increased stress onto the joints and potentially injure the working muscle. Performing exercise slowly and with control is one of the best ways to limit the chance of injury.
Better Mind-Muscle Connection
The mind-muscle connection, also known as attentional focus, during exercise is to consciously place your attention on the muscle being worked. It’s been scientifically proven to help improve mass and muscle strength.
Focusing on the negative movements during any biceps exercise will help to increase muscle mass and strength.
However, don’t forget about the importance of concentric training. Even though it’s proven to be the most effective parts of the exercise, used in conjunction with concentric exercise will maximise your results.
You’ll probably find that lifting heavier weights during eccentric exercise will be more difficult. So, aim to stick to lighter weights and high-volume training. and remember the slower you lower the weight will result in a greater resistance.