One of the Most Powerful Training Strategies
Whether you are a competitive athlete looking to get the edge on the competition, or you are a general population athlete looking to move better, feel better and achieve a leaner and more muscular physique, there are certain training methods that can help expedite the process.
One of the best methods to take advantage of is eccentric emphasis training (EET).
What is EET?
The eccentric phase of a movement is the phase where the muscles producing the movement are lengthening while contracting, while the concentric is the shortening phase of contraction.
For example, during a squat the quads and glutes are lengthening as you descend into the bottom of the squat. At the same time, they are contracting to prevent you from collapsing to the floor.
The quads and glutes would then concentrically contract to get you out of the bottom of the squat and return to the standing position.
The resistance of your body plus and outside resistance such as a loaded barbell is providing more force than the quads and glutes are producing, therefore they are lengthening during the eccentric portion.
Another example could be the pecs and triceps during the lowering phase of a push up. They are both lengthening as you are descending, and they are both contracting to prevent you from smashing you face on the floor.
So eccentric emphasis training would be when you emphasize, or spend more time than normal on the eccentric contraction.
Why should you concentrate on the eccentric phase?
There are a few key benefits to EET that regular eccentric concentric speed training does not optimize.
1. Solidifying technique
During regular speed training we descend into a movement, or lower the resistance, in a fashion that is controlled but not so controlled that we expend more energy than necessary to complete.
While this is conducive to using more resistance during the concentric phase of the movement, it often does not allow us to feel and maintain optimal tension throughout the entire movement. With this lack of tension, form begins to fade as fatigue sets in and we end up looking like newborn giraffe wobbling around as we get deeper into the set.
As Fang et. al. found in a study conducted in 2001, there is earlier onset cortical activity during eccentric contractions vs concentric contractions, which has been credited to the preparation for more complex movement (1).
By dedicating time to an eccentric emphasis block, technique is shored up as the more time spent under tension provides greater response from the nervous helping you solidify a movement pathway and coordination.
Motor control and learning is more efficiently achieved with a slower eccentric action.
This is especially important when you are performing a new lift, or if you are a newbie to the iron game in general.
2. Better Deceleration
In many cases, especially within the athletic world, non contact injuries occur during the deceleration phase of movement.
The muscles and tendons themselves are not strong enough to properly dissipate the forces produced when decelerating a movement or joint, and therefore they are likely to experience damage, or a strain.
By improving the strength of the eccentric contraction, your ability to decelerate becomes greater. This provides a better base to then control forces and limit the likeliness of an injury during deceleration.
Again this is critical when it comes to sports, but movements such as sprinting, cutting and jumping are incorporated into many of our training programs.
Also, aside from quick explosive movements, slower eccentrics and deceleration work helps to teach the tension necessary to control heavy loads such as those we experience under a heavy bar, especially during more dynamic movements including forward, reverse, lateral and walking lunges, etc.
3. Increased Muscle Tendon Strength
Closely related to the previous point, eccentric exercise helps to strengthen the entire muscle-tendon unit, allowing it to better absorb force before failure, as was described in an analysis of research in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy (2).
EET allows the tendons themselves experience an increase in stiffness, making them more durable to the forces exerted on them.
With an increase in tendon stiffness and an overall ability to absorb and dissipate force, the muscle-tendon unit becomes more resilient and your risk of injury decreases.
4. Greater Force Potential
It is no secret that you can handle more weight on the eccentric portion of the movement than you can on the concentric.
During a maximal lift no one ever fails lowering the weight, but instead when trying to reverse directions and accelerate the weight.
The potential force production during eccentric movement has exceeded loads of 120% of the concentric maximum. This is favorable when it comes to strength gains as you can overload the musculature and nervous system to a greater degree during the eccentric portion of the movement than you can with the concentric portion.
The tricky part is you will often need a spotter (or two) to effectively and safely use these loads during most compound movements.
You can lower the weight in a slow and controlled manner and when you are ready to reverse directions your partner(s) simply assist you in lifting the resistance.
You can also have your partner apply additional resistance during the eccentric phase only such as pushing down on the barbell as you lower it to your chest during the bench press.
However you choose to use it, the eccentric portion of a movement can handle greater forces than that of the concentric portion, therefore helping to better improve strength outcomes.
5. Greater Muscle Hypertrophy
Possibly the greatest benefit of EET with regards to the majority of lifters is the enhanced result in muscle hypertrophy.
An earlier finding by Vandenburgh (1987) proposed that the greatest stimulus for muscle hypertrophy occurs when a muscle is stretched under load (3).
The stretching of a muscle while under load increases the mircrotrauma to the contractile and structural components of the muscles. This subcellular damage signals physiological responses that are responsible for the repair and growth of muscle tissue (4).
With that, you can see why emphasizing the eccentric portion of a movement is best to maximize hypertrophy as it is going to stimulate a greater repair and growth response.
Eccentric Emphasis Training…Where We Go Wrong
As with every training method, there is a point where the return on investment with will diminish. And past a certain point, EET will limit your ability to train hard, recover and adapt.
With this in mind, there are two major components to EET where many of us go wrong.
1) Too long of an eccentric.
Since it has been shown that the eccentric portion of the movement is responsible for a majority of the strength and size gains you we experience with training, it is human nature to think that spending more and more time on the eccentric will beget greater results.
Although this thought process seems to make sense, it was actually found that faster eccentric contractions result in greater strength and hypertrophic adaptations. It was concluded that it was likely do to a greater amount of protein remodeling (5).
This would occur as a result of more micro trauma from a faster eccentric movement vs the slower eccentric movement.
So slowing the eccentric movement down significantly will not create a greater stimulus, and is likely less effective than a quicker eccentric phase.
With this in mind, I suggest spending no more than 4 seconds on the eccentric phase of a movement.
Another benefit of keeping the eccentric phase of the movement to 4 seconds or less is the fact that you will be able to utilize a higher load. The more time under tension there is, the more fatigue will accumulate and this fatigue will limit the amount of resistance you can use…no good when you are trying to maximize strength and size.
2) Along the same lines of a longer eccentric phase, many of us overdue the total volume of EET.
EET not only creates a greater amount of micro-trauma, but it also places a significant amount of stress on the nervous system.
Although the anatomical damage and neural stress are beneficial to stimulate growth and adaptation, if the stimulus is too large, recovery will be compromised and subsequent training sessions will suffer.
Eccentric focused resistance training has been associated with increased levels of pain, decreased levels of fiber excitability and acute muscle weakness (6).
Again, while these results will lead to an environment that encourages hypertrophic adaptations and increases in strength, if taken too far the initial negative effects can be detrimental to long term progress.
Therefore instead of falling for the “more is better” that many lifters find themselves becoming victim too, utilize EET conservatively.
Start with a 3-4 week block where you implement EET into the first major lift of each session. If you are working on a full body split, you can utilize EET on the primary lower body as well as upper body movement.
Follow that up with some lower intensity, moderate volume assistance work and get out of the weight room and onto recovery.
While we all enjoy a good bout of DOMS from time to time, don’t be that jackass who chases soreness and thinks the session was worthless if the next day you are not walking down the stairs sideways for the fear that you might tear your quad and grind your face down to the bottom.
To Finish, A Quick Example Program
Here is a quick example of a 3 day split utilizing a lower push and upper pull day, a lower pull and upper push day and a full body day. This split is a split that I use a lot with my athletes online and in person.
Sample 3 Day Full Body Program
Day 1 (Lower Push Upper Pull)
1a. Front Squat EET 3×5 with 3 second eccentric
1b. Chin Up EET 3×5 with 3 second eccentric
2a. Forward DB Lunge 3×8/side
2b. Chest Supported DB Row 3×8
3a. Single Leg Squat from Box 2×12/side
3b. Single Arm Cable Row 2×12/side
4a. Abwheel Rollout 2×10
4b. Facepull 2×15
Day 2 (Lower Pull Upper Push)
1a. Deadlift EET 3×4 with 3 second eccentric followed by 2×2 with 2 second eccentric
1b. Bench Press EET 3×4 with 3 second eccentric followed by 2×2 with 2 second eccentric
2a. Single Arm Single Leg DB RDL 3×8/side
2b. Alternating Incline DB Bench Press 3×8/side
3a. Single Leg Hip Thrust 3×10/side
3b. Push Up 3×10
4a. TRX Tricep Extension 2×10
4b. Slideboard Leg Curl 2×10
Day 3 (Full Body)
1a. FSG Reverse Lunge 3×5/side with 3 second eccentric
1b. Single Arm DB Row 3×6/side with 3 second eccentric
2a. Landmine Front Squat 3×8
2b. Incline Bench Press 3×8
3a. Goblet Grip Lateral Lunge 3×10/side
3b. TRX Inverted Row 3×10
3c. DB Floor Press 3×10
Y. Fang, V. Siemionow, V. Sahgal, F. Xiong, and G. H. Yue, “Greater movement-related cortical potential during human eccentric versus concentric muscle contractions,” Journal of Neurophysiology, vol. 86, no. 4, pp. 1764–1772, 2001.
2. P. LaStayo, et. al., “Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Their Contribution to Injury, Prevention, Rehabilitation and Sport,” Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, vol. 33, no.10, pp. 562, 2003.
3. H. H. Vandenburgh, “Motion into mass: how does tension stimulate muscle growth?” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, vol. 19, no. 5, supplement, pp. S142–S149, 1987.
4. V. G. Coffey and J. A. Hawley, “The molecular bases of training adaptation,” Sports Medicine, vol. 37, no. 9, pp. 737–763, 2007.
5. Shepstone TN, et al. Short-term high- vs. low-velocity isokinetic lengthening training results in greater hypertrophy of the elbow flexors in young men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2005 May;98(5):1768-76.
6. N. Hedayatpour, D. Falla, L. Arendt-Nielsen, C. Vila-Chã, and D. Farina, “Motor unit conduction velocity during sustained contraction after eccentric exercise,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 41, no. 10, pp. 1927–1933, 2009.