While there are multiple ways to train the muscles the most commonly used is concentric focused weight lifting. This includes everything from machines we typically see at the gym to all of the free weights. Concentric has to do with the phase of the exercise when the muscles are shortening, or contracting. Using a dumbbell curl as an example this would be when the dumbbell is rising and we are decreasing the angle of your upper arm and forearm. There is a brief pause as your elbow flexes as far as it will go. Then, the dumbbell will begin its decent as it returns to the original position before the first repetition.
This returning phase is called the eccentric portion of the exercise; your muscles are lengthening. (Remember, the angle and direction matters, so a bench press will involve the arms extending during concentric, but the muscles of the pectorals and triceps are still contracting). Many people will lift weights in a manner that ignores the tension created during the eccentric phase (dropping the weight too fast), which robs them of about half of the exercise’s stimulus. It is a shame that so many ignore this vital portion of the lift because a great deal of progress is made from this part of the movements. In fact, many argue it is of greater benefit to muscle growth than the concentric portion.
Studies on Eccentric Training
Taking a look at the studies done on eccentric training, they may not be wrong. Some of these studies have been out for years and deliver results well beyond what traditional strength training provides. For both hypertrophy and strength, studies have shown significant improvements in shorter periods of time compared to traditional methods.
Now, this does not mean to drop what you are doing and completely switch over to a program based around this. These results do not happen without fail, as it is we do not know the exact reason why such results are possible. The time will come that we are able to identify the reasons and utilize them to our betterment, but for now it could certainly benefit progress to include some eccentric focused resistance training to our programs.
How To Do Eccentric Training
Many different methods to go about this way of training have been used such as slowing down the eccentric portion during normal repetitions, using a heavier than 1RM weight selection and resisting the weight’s movement, even a flywheel that generates inertial resistance currently in use on the International Space Station! The most practical and effective of these for most people seems to be having a gym buddy or two be there to spot you while using a weight higher than 1RM.
Studies have shown that training programs such as this are as effective if not more so than traditional training. So there should be no worry or downside to switching to this style of lifting. It does make sense to be skeptical and want to hold on to what you are accustomed to though. As well as the possibility of not always having someone else there to help (which is almost always needed with this).
Using Eccentric Training to Break A Plateau
It could be a good recommendation then, to add a few sets of this to your program when you are able to, or need to break a plateau you’ve been stuck at. If you have been bench pressing 225 for weeks and months and can’t lift any more, perhaps a few sets using 275 would provide the stimulus needed for you to handle 235.
A few examples here:
- Bench press would be loaded with a weight higher than 1RM, the weight would be lowered solely by the participant resisting the force during the eccentric movement. Then the spotter(s) would assist and lift the weight to perform the concentric with a weight previously unachievable by the participant alone.
- Something like a pullup could be done alone. Grab a dip belt and a step-up stool or anything else capable of supporting enough weight and climb up to the position you would be at at the end of the concentric portion. With enough weight on you, step off the stool and lower yourself for the eccentric of a pullup.
- A bicep curl can be done by simply using the other arm to pull up the dumbbell while you lower it with one.
- A leg press uses the same technique; concentric with two legs, eccentric with one leg bearing the weight.
Try this different approach for yourself as long as you take the necessary safety precautions. Don’t go overboard, find out your training volumes and take those into account. Certainly use this to increase volume strategically and enjoy your shiny new gains.