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What is Eccentric Training and why is it so good for our bodies?

Updated: Apr 24

Eccentric training, also called negatives or negative reps, is the eccentric part of the movement, which lengthens the muscle while it is under resistance. A review published in Frontiers in Physiology states: 'An eccentric [lengthening] muscle contraction occurs when a force applied to the muscle exceeds the momentary force produced by the muscle itself, resulting in the forced lengthening of the muscle-tendon system while contracting.' In other words, eccentric muscle contractions occur when a greater force (the resistance) is applied to the muscle than the muscle can produce. This would typically account for the lowering portion of a lot of our exercises, like the lowering part of a press-up, pull-up or even a bicep curl.


The opposite of this would be the concentric portion of the movement, where the muscles shorten. For example, this would be the part where you push yourself out of a squat or press-up. There are also isometric (constant length) contractions. This is when you hold the contraction static for an amount of time, like a plank.


Eccentric training is used to regress bodyweight exercises like the press-up, pull-up or pistol squat. This is because in the eccentric phase of the movement, we are approximately 20–50% stronger, as stated in research published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. So, while we may not be able to complete the concentric phase of advanced movements, we may be able to complete the eccentric phase of them, therefore building the strength necessary to eventually perform them complete.

As well as this, according to evidence published in Research Online, the muscles require less oxygen during the eccentric phase, contributing to the amount of effort we can exert and potentially enhancing those efforts.



What Are the Benefits of Eccentric Training?


Enhanced Muscular Development

You may have seen bodybuilders practicing this technique in order to grow their muscles, and it is warranted. Several studies support the hypothesis that eccentric training results in superior increases in muscle mass. The only downside to eccentric training is the DOMS felt the following day. However, this can be mitigated by adequate rest and appropriate progressive programming, as mentioned in evidence published in Frontiers.


Increased Strength Capabilities

According to a study published in Sports Medicine, eccentric training can provide superior strength enhancements in comparison to traditional resistance training. This makes the technique an easy way to improve your lifts without necessarily adding weight.


Increased Lengthening Capabilities

Effectively lengthens the muscles at the same time as strengthening them so you kill two birds with one stone! Further research suggests that eccentric training can improve flexibility and range of motion while lessening the risk of injury.





Rehabilitation Benefits

Physiotherapists and health practitioners use eccentric exercises as part of their rehab plan for patients as they are able to use lighter loads that put less pressure on existing injuries.

According to evidence published in the International Journal of Sports Physiotherapy, eccentric exercise offers promise as an effective means to manage a host of common conditions.


Accessible to All Levels of Fitness

One of the main benefits of eccentric training is that people of all fitness levels can try the technique – it's an easy way to increase the difficulty of an exercise without increasing load. For example, once someone has mastered bodyweight squats, they can try slow eccentric squats to increase the intensity and strength. For certain moves like pull-ups, due to the increased strength in the eccentric phase, new lifters can develop strength without the concentric phase, by jumping upwards.


5 Good Eccentric Exercises to Start

1) Eccentric Squats:

Level: Beginner

How:

  • Begin with your feet a little wider than your hips and slightly turned out.

  • While keeping your chest upright and core tight, sit your hips backwards as if you're sitting back on a chair.

  • Slowly lower yourself for a count of three.

  • At the bottom of the squat, push through the heels back to standing, ready to repeat or use a TRX suspension strap, rings or band to help pull yourself back up to standing.


Why: Eccentric squats can help with range of movement, especially at the bottom of the squat, where most find it difficult to push themselves back up. Using TRX straps can help with this eccentric portion in order to help the participant eventually complete the exercise unaided.



2) Eccentric Pull-Ups

Level: Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced

How:

  • Using a box under a pull-up bar, start by standing on the box, gripping the bar a little wider than shoulder-width apart.

  • Jump up so that your chin is above the bar and resist the downward pull of gravity so that you are suspended.

  • Slowly lower yourself for a count of three.


Why: Eccentric pull-ups are a perfect regression to help you build the prerequisite strength necessary to perform them unassisted. Aside from using bands, they are a useful way of building strength without the concentric part of the exercise which is the hardest part of the pull-up.


3) Eccentric Press-ups

Level: Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced

How:

  • Begin in the high plank position.

  • Slowly for a count of three, lower your chest completely to the floor.

  • Instead of pushing yourself back up in a full plank, drop your knees to the floor to make the concentric phase easier to get your chest off the floor.

  • Straighten the legs so that you hit the beginning position, ready to repeat.

Why: Eccentric press-ups are frequently used to help beginners get their full press-ups or help even advanced lifters improve their range of movement and strength in the bottom portion of the press-up.


4) Eccentric Barbell Bicep Curl

Level: Intermediate/Advanced

How:

  • Choose a light to moderate weight.

  • Begin standing with an underhand grip on the barbell, with it hanging in front of your thighs.

  • Tuck your elbows to your waist and curl the barbell upwards so that the bar meets your chest.

  • Slowly lower the barbell for 3-5 counts, ready to repeat.


Why: Eccentric barbell bicep curls can maximise bicep muscle mass by increasing time under tension. The exercise will result in serious DOMS the next day so be sure to complete these with adequate rest days.


5) Eccentric Calf Raises

Level: Intermediate/Advanced

How:

  • Begin holding dumbbells at your sides with the balls of your feet on a step and your heels touching the floor. You can use plates or a small step.

  • Push through the balls of the feet so that your arches are high.

  • Slowly lower for 3-5 counts before pushing back up through the balls of the feet.


Why: Calf raises are frequently performed with the hope of growing our calves quickly, but by missing out on eccentric training, we're not getting the most out of the exercise. Complete a lowering phase of 3-5 counts to increase time under tension.


So, eccentric exercises are brilliant exercises to increase strength more quickly, while lengthening muscles at the same time improving flexibility and range of motion while lessening the risk of injury! You should incorporate them into your exercise regime! They will also help develop good posture more quickly and thus reduce your tensions in the long term!


 Joanna is the Massage and Yoga Therapist at Metta Yoga and Massage, with over 20 years experience. She is ITEC qualified with many CPD Diplomas in Massage therapies, having trained in the UK, Thailand, and India. She has 500 hours Yoga Alliance teacher training hour certifications in Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Yoga Therapy, and Restorative Yoga in the UK, and India. Contact Joanna now to enquire about therapies that can help you relieve pain and tension, injury, stress, and improve flexibility and mobility or Book Therapies Here.

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