The man lies on the bench. He is comfortable, prepared. Slowly, almost cautiously, he unracks the barbell. With elbows completely locked he stares at the bar with intent, a gaze full of resolve and determination, like a lion slowly preparing to launch from the tall grass and attack its prey. He takes a deep breath in, filling his lungs with an ocean of oxygen, and suddenly, BANG! The bar drops to his chest at unimaginable speed, his sternum compresses a full inch, where it proceeds to rebound rapidly, and then, time stops. A second feels like an eternity. The bar quivers with anticipation. His elbows sit at right angles. Slowly, oh so slowly, the bar continues its ascent. The bar continues making its shaky rise to the top. Legs flailing and man grunting the barbell reaches the apex of its journey, elbows once again locked out completely, the bar is racked. The man sits up, grinning manically, he laughs, proud and triumphant.
What does this story have to do with anything?
In all honesty, not a heap. It just seemed like a good introduction to a blog post about the importance of using the eccentric portion of a lift to your advantage (which the man failed to do).
The eccentric portion (negative or yielding portion in some circles) of a lift refers to the part where the muscle is lengthening under load. For example as the bar comes towards the chest during a bench press, the pecs and triceps are getting longer while under load. Similarly, as you descend during a squat, the quads are lengthening under load.
To train safely you need to be able to control this portion of the lift. In the example above, the man doesn’t do this all that well, and runs the risk of injury in that bottom position (AKA cracking a sternum? Injured shoulder joint? etc, etc.).
While avoiding injury should be motivation enough to use the eccentric portion of lift effectively, there are a heap of other benefits that come with emphasising eccentric training.
Eccentric loading can increase muscle mass
Controlled eccentric loading increases muscle damage which in turn can result in greater increases in hypertrophy. Additionally, by increasing the eccentric portion of a lift you also increase total time under tension (TUT), which is a key factor in muscle growth.
By making sure you control the eccentric portion of every single rep you will maximise the opportunity for muscle growth. Using 3 second eccentric lowers on your assistance exercises is a great way to promote greater muscle growth.
Most people are weakest where the exercise turns from eccentric loading to concentric loading (bottom of the squat). By slowing the rep down you get to spend more time in these weak points, and as a result, will increase strength at these weak points.
Eccentric training has shown to actually improve flexibility, in some cases even more than stretching! Particularly when using heavy load and really focusing on the negative portion of the lift. Think 3-5 seconds heavy eccentrics.
By Slowing down a rep you are forced to control the load throughout the duration of the movement, while maintaining the best (safest) positions (straight back, chest up etc.). By getting stronger in these ideal positions you improve your technical proficiency, making you better at specific lifts.
Now by no means do I condone using really slow eccentric loading all the time, but it definitely has its place. It’s important to remember that the concentric portion of the lift should still be as explosive as possible to maximise your strength gains.
If your not sure how to incorporate eccentric training into your programming, or just are not sure where to start, contact me below.