Table of Contents
If you’re looking to increase muscle strength, then you’ll want to focus on eccentric strength training exercises.
Any exercise that requires movement of a joint will comprise of different contractions.
These are known as:
- Concentric contraction
- Isometric contraction
- Eccentric contraction
Concentric training will help you to increase muscle size.
So, if your goal is to add muscle mass, concentric movements are the way to go.
During the concentric phase of an exercise your muscle produces greater force than the weight load placed on it which allow the weight to move.
During an isometric contraction, resistance is applied to a specific muscle without any movement from the joint.
This makes isometric exercises ideal for rehabbing injured muscle fibers or joints where there could be a limited range of motion.
During the eccentric phase of an exercise, there will be less force placed on the muscle when compared to the weight load on it.
In this article, we’re going to look at how the eccentric strength training can help you to increase your strength.
What is Eccentric Strength Training?
Eccentric strength training is to focus on the part of the exercise where you lower the weight and lengthen the muscle.
An eccentric muscle contraction, when performed slowly and with control, is sometimes referred to as negative training or eccentric loading.
The goal during an eccentric exercise is to deliberately overload the muscle which be done with free weights or a person’s bodyweight.
However, that’s not to say that each time your muscle lengthens this is an eccentric contraction.
If you were to stretch a specific muscle, as there is no resistance, the muscle is not producing any force even though it’s still lengthening.
To simplify it, let’s take the pull up exercise as an example and look at each phase of the exercise.
- The Concentric Phase of a Pull Up: When pulling yourself up, this is the concentric phase and causes your bicep to shorten. Resistance comes in the way of your bodyweight.
- The Isometric Hold of a Pull Up: If you then pause at the top, this would be an isometric hold with resistance placed on your bicep but with no movement from any of your joints.
- The Eccentric Phase of a Pull Up: When you lower yourself back down slowly, your muscle lengthens and this is the eccentric part of a pull up.
Eccentric Strength Training Benefits
Let’s look at how eccentric muscle actions can benefit you and why they can play an important role in your training session for strength gains and muscle mass.
Increased Muscle Strength
Your muscles can typically handle heavier weights during eccentric actions.
For this reason, it’s easier to overload the working muscles leading to better strength gains when compared to concentric muscle contractions.
Improved Athletic Performance
By improving eccentric strength, you can increase the amount of force your muscles produce.
This is important for advanced athletes during certain sports such as powerlifting, sprinting and football, all of which require explosiveness during movement.
Increased Muscle Hypertrophy
Evidence has shown that eccentric strength training can also increase muscle size as well as strength.
As the muscles contract mechanical or muscle tension is generated. This tension causes microscopic tears to muscle fibers.
This is known as exercise-induced muscle damage.
The recovery time leads to an increase in muscle growth.
It’s important to consider that intense eccentric exercises can result in delayed onset muscle soreness also known as ‘DOMS’. Sufficient recovery time is therefore essential to build muscle.
Increased Stability and Muscle Control
When your muscles have to resist eccentric forces, this can help to improve the stability of your joints and strength of your tendons thus putting you at less risk of injury.
This is one of the reasons a physical therapist may use eccentric exercises as part of a rehab program as they can help to restore muscle function post injury.
Better Range of Motion and Mobility
When your muscles become stronger this helps to better support the joints making them less susceptible to the effects of wear and tear.
Furthermore, range of motion is improved along with flexibility and mobility of the joints.
This can help to keep common aches and pains at bay whilst making everyday activities that much easier to undertake.
Improved Metabolic Response
Eccentric training is considered high intensity with greater muscle fiber recruitment when compared to concentric training.
Consequently, this can create a higher EPOC effect.
EPOC, sometimes called the afterburn effect, stands for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
It happens post exercise when the body’s oxygen and metabolism both increase in order to bring the body back to its normal resting state.
Reduces Training Duration
If you don’t have a huge amount of time to commit to strength training programs, then eccentric training can offer a more time-efficient way to workout.
As the eccentric phase typically involves handling heavy weight, you can expect to achieve similar training effects whilst performing less repetitions compared to traditional concentric training.
This could potentially reduce your overall training time.
Better Mind-Muscle Connection
Eccentric training methods involve performing each repetition consciously and deliberately.
By focussing on the particular muscle group that’s being worked, you can improve your muscle to mind connection.
This helps to recruit more muscle fibers which further boosts strength.
Improved Cognitive Function
Eccentric-focused exercises help to improve blood flow and nutrients to the brain. This has a positive effect on neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.
These help your brain to reorganize and form new neural connections which in turn leads to better learning and cognition whilst speeding up the function of the brain.
Alleviate Stress & Anxiety
As training in a gym can often be a social activity for many this helps to reduce the symptoms of stress.
What’s more, resistance-based workouts have been shown to lower anxiety levels in both healthy adults and those suffering from either a physical or mental illness.
Examples of Eccentric Strength Exercises
It’s worth remembering that virtually any exercise can be performed where your attention is placed on the eccentric portion of the lift and as the muscle length increases.
Below are some eccentric exercise examples that focus on the lengthening of the muscle.
As long as you concentrate on proper form, you can aim to lift heavier weights. This is because when the muscles lengthen, they can typically resist higher weight loads.
An eccentric rep should always be performed slower than the concentric rep.
It can sometimes be useful to count anywhere from 3 to 5 seconds during an eccentric contraction. Essentially, the slower you lower the weight the better the muscle activation.
The eccentric squat, also known as the “negative” squat, focuses more on the downward phase of the movement. Instead of emphasizing the upward push, as you would in a conventional back squat, the eccentric squat emphasizes the controlled lowering phase.
This means you’re resisting gravity as you lower your body into the squat position, engaging muscles in a slightly different way.
The eccentric squat offers some unique benefits, like increased muscle activation and strength gains, particularly in the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. What’s more, because you’re lowering your body weight under control, it can be a safer option for individuals with knee or back issues.
Eccentric Barbell Deadlift
While the concentric phase of the deadlift involves lifting the weight from the ground to a standing position, the eccentric portion focuses on the controlled lowering of the weight back to the ground.
This phase is essential for building strength, stability, and muscle control. By emphasizing the eccentric portion of the deadlift, you’ll engage the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back eccentrically, which helps in developing both strength and muscle endurance.
Additionally, the eccentric deadlift reinforces proper form and technique, reducing the risk of injury during the lifting phase.
Eccentric Forward Lunge
As you step forward and begin to lower your back knee to the ground, this is the part that should be performed slowly.
This focus on the descent increases the challenge to your balance, coordination, and the muscles involved – mainly the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. It can also help to improve stability to your hips and knees.
Eccentric Bench Press
The eccentric bench press focuses on the lowering phase of the exercise, where you carefully lower the weight towards your chest.
This controlled descent works your muscles, especially your chest, shoulders, and triceps, in a different way.
By emphasizing the eccentric portion of the bench press, you’ll not only build strength but also improve muscle control and stability throughout the movement which can lead to greater gains in muscle mass and strength, as well as improved neuromuscular coordination.
Eccentric Push Up
As you’d expect, the eccentric push-up puts more emphasis on downward phase of the push-up movement.
So, instead of focusing on pushing yourself up away from the floor, you should concentrate on a slow, controlled descent towards the floor.
This exercise really fires up your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core muscles in a more challenging way when compared to the standard push-up and help to improve stability in your shoulder joints.
The eccentric push-up is an excellent exercise for those looking to increase upper body strength without the need for any equipment.
Is Eccentric Strength Training Better?
Research does seem to show that a person’s muscles are at their strongest during an eccentric contraction. This is because it’s resisting more gravitational forces meaning it has to work that much harder.
Consequently, this does mean that you can expect to see significant strength gains and muscle growth when regularly performing an eccentric workout.
That being said, if you only perform eccentric exercises, this can result in over-trained muscles and a plateau where your strength gains will then stall.
Even though you’ll likely be performing less reps, you’ll be lifting more weight which causes fatigue to set in faster.
In summary, this does mean that the concentric portion of the lift is just as important as the eccentric part.
Does Eccentric Training Burn More Calories
The short answer is yes, eccentric training can burn more calories, but the story doesn’t end there.
Eccentric training is a bit of a workout superhero because it’s so efficient. During the muscle’s lengthening phase, you’re actually causing more micro-damage to the muscle fibers. Don’t worry as this is a good thing!
This damage is exactly what prompts your body to repair and strengthen the muscles, a process that requires energy. More energy spent equals more calories burned, not just during the workout, but also as your body repairs and recovers post training.
What’s more, eccentric strength training boosts your metabolism. As your muscles repair themselves, they need more fuel, which means your body continues to burn calories at a higher rate (even when you’ve finished training).
So, while the act of performing eccentric exercises might not always burn significantly more calories during training compared to traditional exercises, the overall effect on your metabolism and the increased calorie burn during the recovery process make it efficient for anyone looking to increase their calorie expenditure.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Eccentric Training
While eccentric strength training offers many benefits, it’s not without its drawbacks. Let’s look at some of the disadvantages below:
Increased Risk Of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
One potential downside is the increased risk of muscle soreness and injury. Because eccentric exercises involve a delayed lengthening phase of muscle contraction, they can put more stress on your muscles and connective tissues compared to traditional exercises.
This heightened stress can sometimes lead to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that lasts longer than usual.
More Time Needed For Training
Another drawback is that eccentric training often requires more time and attention to perform correctly. The slower, controlled movements necessary for eccentric exercises can be challenging to master, especially for beginners.
Without proper form and technique, there’s a greater risk of injury, which could set back your progress.
Not Suitable If You Have Pre-Existing Injuries
Lastly, while eccentric training can be highly effective for building strength and muscle mass, it may not be suitable for everyone.
If you suffer from certain medical conditions or have any pre-existing injuries, you may need to proceed with caution or avoid eccentric exercises altogether, as they can exacerbate existing issues or cause new ones.
It’s important to remember that eccentric training can place significant stress on muscles and connective tissues. Therefore, it’s crucial to gradually introduce and progress with eccentric exercises.
It’s also a good idea to seek guidance from a personal trainer or other qualified fitness professional to ensure proper technique and minimize the risk of injury.
Overall, it’s generally recommended to combine a variety of training methods into your weekly workouts. This would include both eccentric and concentric training for muscle and strength gains.
But don’t forget about cardiovascular workouts.
All of this, combined with a balanced diet and an active lifestyle, can lead to a healthy body and mind.