The underrated importance of eccentrics
written by Philip Stefanov | JANUARY 18, 2022
Eccentric contractions are underrated, and that is a shame. Let’s discuss what they are and why you should re-think the way you train.
What Are Eccentrics?
Eccentric contractions refer to the passive lengthening of muscles under load. Lowering a dumbbell during a curl and descending during a pull-up are examples of eccentric contractions.
While seemingly insignificant, eccentrics are essential for every rep, set, and workout you perform. Ignoring them is comparable to doing 50 or 60 percent of the work and expecting results.
The problem with eccentrics is that it is easy to neglect them. For example, it will always take effort to press or pull a barbell––there is no way to get the weight to the top position. But everyone can let the weight drop to the starting position before initiating the next repetition.
Maintaining a consistent tempo is about discipline and reminding yourself that every part of the repetition matters for your bottom line. I’ve been training for a long time, and I still find myself thinking, “I have to control the negative more. I’ve been slacking during these last few sets.”
The Importance of Eccentric Contractions
Eccentrics are a valuable type of contraction that plays a role in muscle growth and strength gain. For example, I worked my way up to my first ever pull-up precisely thanks to eccentrics back in the day. I didn’t have the strength to do a pull-up, so I began by lowering myself as slowly as I could. I would jump to the top of a pull-up and lower myself for five seconds. My negatives increased to ten, twenty, even forty seconds as I got stronger.
At some point, I had built the necessary concentric strength for pull-ups by only doing negatives. I could do my first unassisted repetition by the time I could lower myself for 45-50 seconds.
Eccentrics are also beneficial for skill acquisition with different exercises. Sure, performing slow negatives helped me build the necessary strength to pull myself up. But the activity also helped me learn to engage the correct muscles and made me better at pull-ups.
Data supports the idea that eccentrics build muscle mass just as well as concentric contractions (1). The idea makes sense because you are still training your muscles and forcing them to produce a lot of force. Plus, we have muscle damage and metabolic stress to consider.
Performing slow negatives puts stress on your muscles, leading to mechanical tension and metabolic stress, which contribute to hypertrophy (2).
What Does It All Mean For You?
First, it means that you should maintain a consistent tempo as you train. Lift and lower the weights with the same speed to improve muscle activation, get more out of every repetition, and stay safe. You don’t have to lift and lower the weight for five seconds but include some form of eccentric contractions to your sets.
Second, it means that you can use eccentrics to build strength on various exercises. Just as I leveraged eccentrics to work my way to my first ever pull-up back in the day, you can do the same and build strength on movements like pull-ups, dips, push-ups, and more. All you have to do is pick an exercise and only perform the negative portion of each repetition.
You might even use eccentrics to improve the mind-muscle connection if you struggle to activate specific areas of your body. For example, if you can’t feel your left bicep, introduce some eccentric curls. Raise the weight to the top position and lower it for 5 to 10 seconds per rep.
Thank you for taking the time to read this! Until next week,
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