What’s eccentric training and should you give it a try?

Being intentional about your exercise program and progression can do wonders when it comes to increasing strength, power and work capacity. Eccentric training is one option that can be used to progress your strength training workouts.

What is eccentric training?

The eccentric portion of a strength training exercise is when the muscle group you’re working out is being lengthened despite exerting force versus concentric where the working muscles are shortening. Two examples of this are lowering the bar to your chest when bench pressing or lowering in a squat. Eccentric training is when this phase of movement becomes your primary emphasis during your workout.

What are the benefits of eccentric training?

Eccentric training can help you have better control over movements where you are trying to slow down or control a force. This is important in sports and can also be beneficial in every day contexts. Some examples include slowing down from a sprint or sitting down into a chair.

Compared to concentric-only training, eccentric training is associated with greater overall strength improvements, as well as greater muscle mass. There is nuance in this, however, as eccentrics are not a direct magic door to stronger, bigger muscles, but rather one component of a successful exercise regimen.

There has also been evidence of positive effects of eccentric training on decreasing risk of injury, rehabilitating muscle strains, managing tendon tissue breakdowns and ACL reconstruction rehabilitation. Just make sure you consult a medical provider before trying to implement eccentrics in a therapeutic manner.

How can I start eccentric training?

If you are a novice to working out, I recommend exploring various exercises and focusing on good programming principles first. Fortunately, most exercises contain an eccentric and concentric portion.

To emphasize the eccentric portion, you don’t need to completely cut out the concentric portion of the lift. You can intentionally slow the speed of the lowering portion of an exercise so you spend more time on the eccentric movement. This speed adjustment is usually a good place to start, and the same concept can be used for most traditional exercises like bench press, leg press, bicep curls and more. You can initially use weights you feel confident with, as the longer time under tension can be tiring, and build from there.

Since your muscles can handle more force eccentrically than they can concentrically, another method of performing eccentric exercises is using weights greater than what you can lift concentrically, and focus on lowering the heavy weight in a controlled manner. This will require a trusted spotter to help you get the weight back up, and to spot you as you lower it down. You can also use a weight machine by pushing the weight up with two limbs, and lowering the same weight with one. In this scenario, your other limb becomes the spotter.

Are eccentric exercises always slow?

Eccentric training can be performed at a variety of speeds depending on your training goals. Initially, it’s advised to use slower motions until your confidence and knowledge of eccentric training is move advanced. Depending on your exercise goals, you can then increase speeds. A good example of a faster eccentric exercise is landing from a vertical or horizontal jump, where you have to slow your body down rapidly. Plyometric exercises by nature have an eccentric component that occurs at higher speeds and can be useful in more sport-specific training.

Is fitness equipment needed for eccentric training?

Body weight, free weights and weight machines can all be used during eccentric training. Weight machines can be helpful because some have a built-in fail safe to catch the weight. As many benefits as eccentric training has, the key is to make sure your plan matches up with your desired goals.

How often should you do eccentric training?

Frequency will vary from individual to individual. If you are new to eccentric training, give yourself a few days between workouts for recovery and be prepared for muscle soreness after your training session. Those unaccustomed to eccentric training can get more muscle soreness than with concentric exercises. Otherwise, it’s a great idea to write out a workout plan and adjust your frequency of completing eccentric movements based on how you feel after completing them.

Who can do eccentric training?

This type of training can be beneficial for almost everyone, whether you’re rehabilitating from an injury, training for a sport or exercising for general wellness. You should always check with a health care provider before starting a new program if you have any medical conditions that may affect your response to exercise.

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