Eccentric Weight Training: Definition, Pros & Cons

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The Power of Eccentric Weight Training

In eccentric weight training, a spotter assists you in lifting the bar (the concentric phase), and then you control the weight on the eccentric (lowering) phase. This means load the bar – or in a case of the chinups, yourself – with 10 do 20 percent more weight than you used in your heaviest set. Take more time (at least 5 seconds) to lower the bar or your body. Then have spotters raise the bar off your chest or the floor (or climb back up to the chinup bar), and repeat for few more reps.

Eccentric weight training in a nutshell

To be able to do your maximum in the eccentric weight training, the concentric phase of an exercise is eliminated. The movement consists of just struggling against gravity with as heavy a weight as possible. This technique is particularly appropriate when you do not have enough strength to do pull-ups, for example. In this case, you always have enough strength to slow down the descent. The goal is to slow down the descent for as long as possible and as many times as possible. The magic of pure eccentric weight training is that it allows you to quickly gain enough strength to be able to lift your body alone. In general, two weeks of pure eccentric weight training at the pull-up bar will allow a person who was not capable of doing a pull-up to do a pull-up once or twice all by himself.

Another technique is to lift the weight with two arms but to lower it with only one arm. For example, when doing push-ups, lift yourself up normally with two arms. Once you are up, transfer your weight to one arm and do a pure negative. Be sure that you are at an adequate level of fitness before attempting this variation. If you cannot stop yourself, especially at the end, you can do a partial negative. This means descending part of the way and then going back up using both arms. Your strength will quickly increase and you will be able to go down all the way without any problems.

Numerous movements (but not all of them) lend themselves to pure negatives. Use this strategy at least once a month.

eccentric workout

Examples of eccentric contractions in different exercises

You can also easily perform the eccentric training on ordinary strength training machines for leg extension, leg curl, bench press or shoulder press etc. One can for example lower weights in the eccentric phase with one leg or arm, and use both legs or arms in the concentric phase.

Possible benefits of the eccentric weight training

Why perform eccentric weight training?

  • This advanced weight training technique allows you to use a heavier weight (110–160 per cent 1RM), causing the body to adapt to the increase in weight.
  • During an eccentric contraction there is more mechanical load per motor unit. As a result, eccentric
    training can generate up to two-thirds more tension in the muscle than concentric training.
  • Increased tension provides a greater stimulus to the muscle fibres which, in turn, means greater strength and muscle growth.

Disadvantages

  • This training method increases the risk of injury.
  • It requires a spotter. Eccentric weight training requires one or more partners to help raise the weight to the starting position. This is because you must train with weights that are heavier than those you can handle alone.
  • Adolescent athletes should refrain from doing only eccentric weight training because it places a great deal of stress on the muscles, tendons and ligaments. We are especially afraid of injuries of the tendons and ligaments since these structures do not adapt to strength training as fast as muscles.

Additional tips (performance pointers)

  • Focus on lowering the weight very slowly.
  • Eccentric weight training is a very intense training method. Therefore, limit eccentric training to one exercise per muscle group in any one workout, performing it at the end of only one or two sets.
  • Allow longer rest intervals between sets.
  • Recovery may take up to 10 days, so you should allow at least 10–14 days between muscle group workouts employing this technique. For example, if you perform eccentric training on the chest on Monday, do not use it for the chest again for two weeks.

Two ways of performing eccentric weight training

In the first way, the lifter does a normal set until fatigued, then finishes with negative sets. To do this, you would have your spotter help with the positive, or concentric, portion of the lift, then you would lower the weight (the negative portion of the lift) slowly under control. This method works well because a person is as much as 20 to 40 percent stronger in the eccentric phase. The concentric movement will cause fatigue before the eccentric movement. Therefore, to achieve a good eccentrically fatigued state, the eccentric portion can be worked for additional reps while the spotter helps the lifter during the concentric portion of the exercise. Exercises such as bench presses and shoulder presses, leg extensions and leg curls, and most pulls work well with this type of routine.

The second way to train is called “eccentric emphasis”. As the name implies, the rep is normal except that the negative portion is exaggerated by increasing the time the lifter takes to lower the weight. Emphasized negatives are the most popular, safest, and most productive exercises of the two because they are controlled by the lifter. In a negative rep, it should take at least five seconds to lower the weight. Any faster and the lifter is not truly working against the weight to slow it down.

Closing thoughts

In this type of weight training you are concentrating on the eccentric (lowering) phase of the exercise by, for example, controlling the weight as it is lowered to the chest during the bench press. Certain studies point to the advantages of “eccentric only” training, but this research is still at a very early stage. Unfortunately, this technique is difficult in practice using free weights (as a lot of help is required), and existing machines are not usually designed for training in this way. More research is needed in this area, given the numerous questions that remain. We do not recommend athletes starting eccentric training too early. A minimum requirement is that you are well familiar with traditional strength training. The moral is that “one should learn to crawl before walking”.

(1) Hackney KJ, Engels HJ, Gretebeck RJ. 2008. Resting energy expenditure and delayed-onset
muscle soreness after full-body resistance training with an eccentric concentration. Strength
and Conditioning Research 22(5):1602-1609.

(2) Colliander, E.B., and P.A. Tesch. 1990. Effects of eccentric and concentric muscle actions in resistance training. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 140: 31-39.

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