The traditional vernacular sounds something like this, “I’m going to go lift weights.” Authors of a research study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology suggest that this statement might not be worded as accurately as it could be. In the aforementioned study, German researchers sought to determine the effects of emphasizing the muscle contractions that are involved with lowering the weight (known as eccentric contractions) rather than the muscle contraction involved when we lift the weight (concentric contraction). Researchers concluded that emphasizing the eccentric muscle contraction, the contraction that involves lowering the weight, resulted in adaptations “in direction of a faster, stronger muscle.” Of interest in this particular study was that all of the subjects were very experienced with strength training and that the new emphasis on eccentric contractions producing marked improvements in a myriad of measures. Specifically, the authors suggest that this type of training favorably impacted what they termed “explosive strength” often used in competitive sports. Of course, this expression of strength is not subject solely to sports. Our “explosive strength” diminishes as we age and lose “fast-twitch” muscle fiber capabilities.
Additionally, a review article published in the Journal Muscle and Nerve reviewed the benefits of eccentric training. These researchers suggested that focusing on the eccentric portion of strength training may be superior for building muscle mass, recovering from total knee replacement surgery, Parkison’s patients, and patients with neuromuscular diseases including stroke survivors.
At Discover Strength, we have been aware of the importance of “eccentric” training for over 15 years; however, in light of this new research, it is fair to say that we have drastically under-stated the value and application of this type of training. Interestingly, it appears that the most important component of strength training is the component that nearly all people omit, the “lowering” of the weight.
How can you focus on “eccentric” training in your workouts? Here are some basic suggestions:
- When you lift the weight, don’t let it drop back down to the starting position; instead, lower it slowly so that tension is kept on the muscle.
- When you reach the point of “concentric” muscle fatigue (meaning, you can no longer lift the weight), a trainer can lift the weight for you and you can lower it slowly thus emphasizing the eccentric portion of the movement.
- On exercises/machines that allow it, raise the weight with both limbs and then lower the resistance with just one limb. This will cause the one limb to encounter a much higher level of intensity during the “eccentric” contraction.
- Perform “eccentric” or “negative only” exercise by using a heavier weight and having a trainer lift the weight for you while you focus on lowering the weight slowly.
Interestingly, the trends and fads in the fitness world today steer the trainee away from this important form of exercise toward exercise that offers little or no eccentric work.