No matter which exercise you are performing, you will move through three phases. There is the concentric, or lifting phase, the isometric, or pausing phase, and the eccentric, or lowering phase. The traditional belief has been that the concentric phase of any exercise is where you’ll find real results. Recent studies, amidst a number of self-tested advocates, are claiming just the opposite. Let’s take a look at the role of the eccentric portion of movement and why this is the phase to emphasise if you want to see dramatic improvements in strength, size, and speed.
RESISTANCE TRAINING AND THE ECCENTRIC PHASE
If you want to build pure strength and muscular size, then the eccentric portion of the lift coupled with the appropriate tempo (or speed) is what will help get you there. Why? When you are lifting a weight, your muscle fibers are focused on one task: getting the weight from point A to point B. When you are lowering the weight, your muscles now have an added task: keep the weight secure, maintain the prescribed speed, AND keep fighting against the weight. Even during the eccentric portion, you’ll still provide yourself a bit of concentric-based resistance. That same set of muscle fibers must get the weight from point B to point A while staying in complete control.
This isn’t based on gym rumors, this is actual science. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise highlighted that while the concentric portion of the lift was important, it was the eccentric portion that proved to be superior during muscle activation and long-term results.
Let’s say you’re goal is to maximize muscular size: Can eccentric training produce the results you’re looking for? Absolutely. As you’ll see in this study from Brad Schoenfield, the extensive micro tears that are produced during eccentric-based training trigger the greatest amount of muscle growth in the Type II, or fast twitch, muscle fibers.
DYNAMIC MOVEMENTS AND THE ECCENTRIC PHASE
If your fitness specialty lies in more dynamic, low volume movements such as jumping or dodging, the eccentric portion will be your ticket to amplifying overall performance. Dynamic movements such as changing direction under speed or launching yourself into the air are based on the power generated during the eccentric phase. Consider the jump squat exercise: As you lower yourself into position, your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors are generating the energy needed to produce a single shot of maximum effort.
Fast paced movements that are absent of an isometric hold are amplified when the eccentric portion of the lift is emphasized. What about post workout when you are expected to stretch? Eccentric emphasis is king there as well. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine demonstrated that focusing on the eccentric portion during flexibility training provided the greatest benefit.
By manipulating the tempo during the eccentric portion of any exercise, you will see the greatest results. For muscular hypertrophy, take 4 seconds to completely lower the weight. For strength and power, use high volume and a faster pace. No matter what your goal, eccentric training will help you achieve it.
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Tristan Hill, Masters of Sports Coaching, author of Lifting the Bar and mentor to Personal Trainers.