Strength Training

Eccentric Exercise: What Is It, Benefits And Examples

eccentric and concentric exercises

To get the very best out of your workouts, implementing a variety of training methods will see you continually testing your body so that you don’t plateau, and achieve consistent muscle and strength gains.  In this article we will cover the eccentric part of exercises and the impacts it can have on your training.

The eccentric phase of an exercise contributes more to muscle growth when compared to the concentric phase.  This is due to more resistance against gravitational forces during the eccentric part of the movement.  The concentric contraction is most responsible for improvements to athletic performance. 

Concentric exercises are a form of positive training (acceleration) that shorten the muscle fibres.  By comparison, eccentric exercises are considered negative training (deceleration) that lengthen muscle fibres.  An eccentric movement is essentially time under tension where a muscle contracts for a length of time resulting in better hypertrophy.

When performing an exercise, the movement typically comprises three phases. To best explain this, we will use the example of a bicep curl:

  • CONCENTRIC PHASE – Curling the weight up and towards you.
  • ISOMETRIC PHASE – Holding the weight prior to lowering with no movement at the joint.
  • ECCCENTRIC PHASE – Lowering the weight back down to the starting position.

All phases of an exercise impact the body in different ways and it’s not uncommon for someone performing something such as a bicep curl, to place more importance on the concentric phase.  When it comes to lowering the weight (the eccentric part), good form can be neglected, and they simply allow gravity to take over.  Gravity essentially pulls the weight down meaning the user does not properly engage the muscles.

However, by executing a slow and controlled eccentric phase (when the muscle is lengthening) this can have tremendous benefits to muscle building.  You’ll be fighting against gravity and this in turn tears the muscle fibres so they can repair back bigger and stronger.

Changing the tempo of the eccentric contraction can improve the mind-muscle connection (MMC).  This will encourage you to become more aware of the muscles as you train them.  It’s scientifically proven that a neurological connection between the brain and the working muscle enhances muscle fibre recruitment and activation.

WHAT ARE EXAMPLES OF ECCENTRIC MOVEMENTS

As virtually all exercises incorporate three phases, concentric, isometric and eccentric, placing the focus on the eccentric phase of an exercise is straightforward.  Below we’ve listed a few common movements where the focus is on the eccentric portion for greater muscle building.

  • Eccentric Deadlift

An eccentric deadlift requires a person to pull the weight from the ground in a slow and controlled way.  This is the very opposite of how a standard deadlift would be executed whereby a person would use explosive power to pull the load and lock out at the hips.

An eccentric deadlift is typically undertaken with less weight than what a lifter may be able to pull when compared to a standard deadlift.

  • Eccentric Bench Press

To perform a bench press exercise eccentrically, you would reduce the tempo of the movement whilst lowering the barbell towards your chest.  For powerlifters, this can be beneficial, as a controlled descent can assist with a better ascent, allowing for an improved technique.

  • Eccentric Hamstring Curl

An eccentric hamstring curl can help to build strength in the lower back as well as the hamstrings.  To do this exercise; engage the glutes and use both legs to bring the weight towards your hamstrings.  Drop one leg back down, whilst using the other leg to hold the weight.  Slowly, and with control, lower this leg back down to the starting position.

Avoid arching the lower back as you pull the weight towards your hamstrings, as this will place stress on the lower back extensor muscles and take the load away from the hamstrings.

Eccentric training isn’t just limited to free weights and barbell work.  You can also implement this type of training when using gym machines.  The key is to remember to slow down on the part of the movements where your muscles are lengthening.

ARE SQUATS CONCENTRIC OR ECCENTRIC

A squat can be performed either concentrically or eccentrically. If executing a squat eccentrically you would slow the descend.  Alternatively, to perform concentrically, you would slow the ascent.  Typically, an eccentric squat would require the lifter to squat more weight with a concentric squat being less weight.

Eccentric squats are sometimes used to improve a person’s squat form.  By maintaining a slow descent, helps the lifter to properly engage the muscles whilst concentrating on their form.  It can also help with more consistent lifts as eccentric training can with better movement patterns, this can help to eliminate the potential for injury.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF ECCENTRIC EXERCISE

Aside from building muscle, eccentric training is often used in rehabilitation and recovery.  This is because eccentric movements can strengthen the body’s connective tissues helping to improve tendon injuries and muscle strains.

WHY DOES ECCENTRIC EXERCISE CAUSE DOMS

The eccentric phase of an exercise is what causes delayed onset muscle soreness, often abbreviated to DOMS.  Whilst the muscle is still under tension, but lengthening (moving eccentrically) microtears in the muscles are caused.

DOMS is typically felt around 1 to 2 days post training and whilst some think the cause is due to lactic acid build up, this is not the case.  Inflammatory fluid is sent to the damaged area along with cells required to repair the muscle tears.

The build-up of this inflammatory fluid results in pressure being applied to the nerves within the muscle fibres, this elicits the pain response, hence the delayed onset muscle soreness.

ARE ECCENTRIC EXERCISES BETTER THAN CONCENTRIC

As we discussed above, we know that slow and controlled eccentric training can result in muscle growth.  That being said, if you were to just focus on eccentric exercises this can quickly lead to over training of the muscles and reaching a plateau.

CONCLUSION

If you’re not too familiar with eccentric vs concentric training but would like to take advantage of the benefits, why not try changing the tempo of your current workouts.  For example, spend two seconds on the concentric and isolation contractions but four seconds on the eccentric portion.

You should find this a good way to make your workouts more challenging.  You may need to drop the weights slightly to best perform the movements as usually, eccentric exercises are carried out with less weight.  Don’t be discouraged with lifting less weight however, as ultimately eccentric training with make you bigger and stronger.

Sources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3105370/

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