We all want to get the maximum benefit from our time working out. Every week we read about new ways to do so, but there is a time-tested method of maxing out your gains that too few people know about. It’s called eccentric training and, in this article, you’ll learn all about it.
What Is Eccentric Training?
Eccentric training is also known as negative training. It places the emphasis on the negative, or lowering, part of an exercise. There are three phases to any resistance training exercise:
• The concentric (lifting) phase
• The transition phase
• The eccentric (lowering) phase
Let’s use the barbell curl to explain these phases. When you curl the weight up to your shoulder, you are working through the concentric phase of the exercise. The transition occurs at the top of the lift. Then the eccentric part of the exercise is when you lower the weight back to the start position.
The majority of people put all of their effort into the concentric part of the phase. As a result, they either drop the weight back to the start position or lower it very quickly. In doing so they are robbing themselves of a major training benefit.
Eccentric Training Benefits
You are significantly stronger in the eccentric portion of the lift than in the concentric part. Most people are about 15% stronger in the eccentric phase. That means that you are able to handle more weight during the eccentric portion of the rep. Let’s say, for example, that you are able to bench press a maximum of 300 pounds on the concentric phase of the bench press. You will actually be able to handle somewhere in the area of 345 pounds during the eccentric phase. This gives you the potential for greater muscular overload and consequent muscle growth.
How would this work in practice? You could load the heavier weight and resist on the way down and then have a pair of training partners to remove the extra weight so that you can push the concentric portion with your positive maximum or resist on the way down, and have your partner spot you to accommodate the extra load on the concentric phase. You should plan to take between three and seven seconds to lower the weight under control.
If you have never done this type of training before, you will experience significant strength gains from doing so.
You can also use eccentric training with the same weight on the concentric and eccentric phases of the exercise. In this case, however, you will take between seven and 10 seconds to lower the weight. When you lower a weight, you are actually building more strength than when you lift it. So, the slower you do so and the more control you exert, the greater your strength gains will be.
Eccentric training is a great tool to use when you cannot complete full concentric reps. An example of this could be when you are doing pull-ups. Let’s say that you have just pumped out a dozen full pull-ups and reached positive failure, meaning that you cannot do another full rep. You have not yet, though, reached negative failure. So, stopping the exercise now is actually robbing you of potential benefit. So, don’t stop; have your training partner place his hands under your feet and to help you get up to the top pull-up position. Now, lower your body slowly and under control, taking around seven seconds to get all the way down. Do this for five or six reps and you will have reached negative failure, where you can no longer control the descent. At this point, you will have totally exhausted every single muscle fiber in your lats and will be primed for maximum muscle growth.
You can also use eccentric training to help you push heavier weights during the concentric phase of an exercise. Let’s say that you have reached a plateau on your overhead dumbbell press. Grab a weight that is 10% heavier and have your training partner help you through the concentric phase. Now lower the dumbbells back to the start position under control, aiming for a seven-second count. This will massively boost your ability to lift that weight through the concentric phase, which you should be doing within a couple of weeks.
More Muscle Mass
Eccentric training places greater stress on the muscle tissue. That enhanced stress creates microtears within the muscle fiber that needs to be repaired after the workout. So long as you rest and feed your body with plenty of quality protein, the muscle fiber will build back bigger and stronger. When you add a slow eccentric phase to the repetition, you are dramatically increasing the time under tension for that set. The ideal time under tension to produce the greatest strength and muscle gain is 45-55 seconds. Yet most people’s sets only take around half of that time. Imagine if you were doing a set of eight reps where you held for five seconds. That gives you 40 seconds on just the eccentric phase. The concentric phase should take one second, so that adds another eight seconds, for a total of 48 seconds of time under tension for the set. That is right within our ideal range.
The most injuries, in sport, in the gym and in real life, occur during the lowering part of an action. Controlled eccentric training allows you to get a lot stronger during the lowering phase of any movement. This significantly reduces your chance of injury. The muscles will also be able to absorb a lot of force, such as when your arm decelerates after throwing a baseball. Even if you trip and fall, your greater eccentric power will allow you to catch yourself rather than going down.
How to Do It
Eccentric training will lead to extreme muscle soreness. That is because, as we have noted, this type of training causes greater stress to the muscle fiber. As a result, you should ease into this type of training gradually. Rather than jumping in and doing a seven-second eccentric on every rep of every set, choose one exercise per workout and add an eccentric component to one or two sets. Start with focusing on slowing down in the eccentric phase. Lower the weight to a count of three, gradually increasing the time until it is taking a full seven seconds to complete the phase.
Every week, try adding in an extra element of eccentric training by either overloading a set or performing the seven-second concentric. You should also pick one exercise every workout where you perform eccentrics to failure once you have reached concentric failure, just as we demonstrated with the pull-up example.
Eccentric training is an extremely powerful technique that you need to be using in the gym. Make use of the suggestions provided in this article and you will be amazed how much more intense your workouts will be, how much sorer your muscles will be and how much more growth you will achieve from your efforts on the gym floor.
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