Friday, October 23, 2015

4 Big Benefits of Eccentric Training

You know the old saying "slow and steady wins the race?" Well, in strength training, I believe slow and steady reps win the gainz. Eccentric training is, in my opinion, the Unsung Hero for improving athleticism. If you want to maximize strength, build muscle, and increase flexibility, stressing the eccentric portion of your lifts is a priority.

If you're asking "what the heck eccentric training," well, keep reading! There are three main types of skeletal muscle actions:
  • An isometric action is when a contraction is maintained for an extended period of time. Planks and wall-sits are two well known isometric exercises.
  • The concentric phase is aptly named, because it involves the contraction of the muscle. When you are standing up from the bottom of a squat, your quadriceps complex is concentrically contracting.
  • The eccentric phase allows your muscles to lengthen under load. An example of this is when you are lowering yourself down from the top of a pull-up bar.
Most exercises emphasize the concentric portion of the movement. A standard push-up, pull-up or squat are traditionally used to improve the contraction of the agonist (initiating) muscles. Think about it this way: when you set up for a bench press, usually you lower the bar down relatively steadily and then accelerate the bar on the way up, as you extend your elbows. This is the traditional way to perform the movement, and the way it is performed in competition.

Now, what if I told you that, by training the lowering phase of a bench press, you could actually improve your strength and acceleration on the press? Do you ever find that with heavier weights you just tend to let the bar drop right to your chest, with absolutely no control? In that case, you are weak eccentrically.

This is just but one example of how eccentric training can help boost your performance. Here are some of the best benefits you can reap from utilizing the lengthening phase of an exercise:
  1. Heavier loads. Research suggests that you can manage about 1.75 times as much weight in the eccentric phase than you can in the concentric phase. With a partner, load a heavy weight on the bar for bench. Try to control the weight down slowly and let your partner assist you in lifting the weight back up to the rack. This will help you increase your lifts at a rapid rate. I would recommend only doing only 3 sets of 4-5 repetitions the first few times you try these, as it is going to place a lot of stress on your muscles and your central nervous system.
  2. Increased muscle size (hypertrophy)! Strength coach Charles Poliquin frequently writes about the effects of eccentric work for maximum hypertrophy. He says "The eccentric phase causes more muscle damage and leads to greater rates of protein synthesis post-workout. Training that includes a concentric phase as well as an eccentric phase will cause the most muscle damage." This is a great way to get massive quickly. Here's an example: for a biceps curl, you could do tempo sets. Count 5 seconds on the way up, and 10 seconds on the way down. Try this for 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.
  3. Injury prevention. Several studies have used eccentric training of the hamstrings to prevent ACL tears and hamstring strains. One such study was performed on competitive soccer players. Askling et. al. concluded "[the] results indicate that addition of specific preseason strength training for the hamstrings – including eccentric overloading – would be beneficial for elite soccer players, both from an injury prevention and from performance enhancement point of view." Russian leg curls are an excellent example of an eccentric movement for the hamstrings complex. These can be pretty tough initially, so 3-4 repetitions for a couple sets will be enough to light that posterior chain on fiya.
  4. Improved flexibility. As you may or may not have deduced from my previous articles, I'm not a huge fan of static stretching. Eccentric training is a fantastic alternative to static stretching that will promote lasting changes on your level of flexibility. Dr. Yessis noted that "Good mornings are excellent. Here you're gonna get some stretching on the way down, and some strengthening on the way up ... You'll find the hamstrings kick in almost immediately." You can do this instead of a traditionally prescribed standing or seated hamstring stretch. Romanian deadlifts are another movement that can do wonders for your posterior chain.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that slow eccentric movements can have an exceptional effect on the central nervous system. With that in mind, it's not necessary to perform them for very many reps or sets, and you'll only need to do them once or twice per week to reap the benefits. Performing heavy eccentric exercises on a regular basis can be counter productive, so use them sparingly! Using these concepts appropriately, however, you will see tremendous improvements in strength, power, and many other facets of athleticism.

Works Cited:
  1. Askling, C., J. Karlsson, and A. Thorstensson. "Hamstring Injury Occurrence in Elite Soccer Players after Preseason Strength Training with Eccentric Overload." Scand J Med Sci Sports Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports 13.4 (2003): 244-50. Web.
  2. Cowell, John F., John Cronin, and Matt Brughelli. "Eccentric Muscle Actions and How the Strength and Conditioning Specialist Might Use Them for a Variety of Purposes." Strength and Conditioning Journal 34.3 (2012): 33-48. Web.
  3. Farthing, Jonathan P., and Philip D. Chilibeck. "The Effects of Eccentric and Concentric Training at Different Velocities on Muscle Hypertrophy." European Journal of Applied Physiology 89.6 (2003): 578-86. Web.
  4. O'sullivan, K., S. Mcaulliffe, and N. Deburca. "The Effects Of Eccentric Training On Lower Limb Flexibility: A Systematic Review." British Journal of Sports Medicine 48.7 (2014): 648. Web.
  5. Raj, Isaac Selva, Stephen R. Bird, Ben A. Westfold, and Anthony J. Shield. "Effects of Eccentrically Biased versus Conventional Weight Training in Older Adults." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 44.6 (2012): 1167-176. Web.
  6. Schoenfeld, Brad. "The Use of Specialized Training Techniques to Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy." Strength and Conditioning Journal 33.4 (2011): 60-65. Web.

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