Saturday, July 2, 2011

Blast Through Plateaus with Eccentric Exercises!

I.   Two Types of Muscle Contraction: Concentric and Eccentric
II.  How to Use Eccentric Contractions to Break Through Plateaus
III. Bibliography
I.   Two Types of Muscle Contraction: Concentric and Eccentric

In any type of resistance exercise, there are two phases of muscle contraction.  Concentric contractions are what we’re all familiar with and concentrate on the most.  This is where muscles shorten when generating force.  A common example is the upward phase of a bicep curl, where the bicep shortens, causing the arm to bend at the elbow, from close to your legs to your shoulders.  Other examples are the upward phase of a bench/shoulder/leg press or the downward phase of a tricep pushdown.

The second, and often ignored, phase of muscle contraction is the eccentric contraction, which is the opposite of a concentric contraction.  Rather than causing a shortening and pulling of a joint, eccentric contractions decelerate the joint as the muscle elongates.  Common examples include the downward phase of a bicep curl, bench/shoulder/leg press, or the upward phase of a tricep pushdown.  Not surprisingly, strength training studies have shown that utilizing both concentric and eccentric contractions can increase muscular strength more than concentric contractions alone (Colliander and Tesch, 1990).  So what are some good ways to utilize eccentric contractions to blast through those plateaus?

II.  How to Use Eccentric Contractions to Break Through Plateaus

1.  Simply stop ignoring the eccentric phase of your exercises! - Remember this: 1 rep = 1 full concentric contraction + 1 full eccentric contraction.   If you are doing bicep curls, don’t just let the weight drop to your legs after completing the concentric phase.  Slowly bring the weight down, decelerate the opening of the elbow with the bicep muscles you may have been neglecting.  Do this for EVERY rep, on EVERY exercise, and you’ll feel the difference!

2.  Utilize negatives (requires a spotter) – If you’re doing 3-4 sets of an exercise, negatives can be implemented during your last set (or last two sets).  First, complete your full set of reps as you normally would.  Negatives begin after your last concentric contraction.  They consist of very slow, unassisted eccentric contractions (i.e. - lowering of a bench press or bicep curl bar), followed by an assisted concentric contraction.  By this time, your muscles will not be able to complete concentric contractions without assistance.  Luckily, your eccentric muscles can still take more of a beating.  Conduct these negatives until failure.

If you don’t have a spotter, you can still implement negatives for certain muscle groups.  For example, if you’re bench pressing, you can drop to a push-up position, do your negatives, and pick yourself back up into a push-up position.  Or, if you’re doing pull-ups, you can jump up into the top of the concentric phase of the pull-up, then slowly drop back down.

By utilizing these tools, you will definitely see gains in your strength and muscle size! 

Dr. O 
"I don't live to eat...I eat to live!"

III.  Bibliography

1.    Colliander, E.B. and P.A. Tesch, Effects of eccentric and concentric muscle actions in resistance training. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 1990. 140(1): p. 31-39.


NewWorldOrder said...

This post is spot on. I recently realized that being controlled throughout the ENTIRE exercise (like you stated in your post) yields results in 2 weeks...I think it's actually the correct way to work out.

Dozie Onunkwo, Ph.D. said...

Totally agree! Most people are only controlled through half of the exercise. Proper form is most important!

Anonymous said...

I agree. I often see men and women try to power through their reps and only paying attention to say the upward motion of a bicep curl. People forget there are a lot of muscles working at the same time to help the one muscle they're concentrating on strengthening. Slow and steady wins the race!

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