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Boost Your Strength with Eccentric Training

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If you want to make the most of your strength training, you need to understand eccentrics.

I don’t mean the type of colorful personality that’s responsible for my hometown Austin’s “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. No, I’m actually referring to that portion of the lift, any lift, that you’re probably underutilizing in your training.

Let’s talk about what eccentric training is, why you should care, and how to you can utilize a few incredibly effective methods to boost your performance.

A video posted by Chad Vaughn (@olychad) on

 

What is eccentric training? 

The eccentric phase is the lowering, or the negative portion of the lift. Muscles lengthen while producing tension to brake or control the descent of the load.

Think of the bench press. The chest, shoulders and triceps will stretch during the eccentric phase, as the barbell comes down to the chest. Pausing at the chest requires an isometric contraction, while pressing the weight is your concentric contraction. You need to understand these phases well if you’re going to utilize tempo work in your strength training (which I definitely would!).

Traditionally, the tempo of this movement would be written out on the whiteboard like this – eccentric, pause, concentric, pause. Let’s use 5-1-2-1 as an example. This would equate to a 5-second eccentric phase, a 1-second isometric pause at the chest, a deliberate 2-second concentric phase, and then a 1-second pause at lockout.

I’ll tell you a lot more about tempo work in just a bit.  

#robbwolf and #keithnorris at #pfx13 #paleofx @paleofx. Thanks for the shot guys (@primalfenix) -Shirley A photo posted by Paleo f(x) (@paleofx) on

 

How does this effect muscle? 

Imagine two strips of velcro, only the velcro represents a muscle fibril. You have a “myosin” protein portion of the fibril, that would be the hook strip of the velcro. On the other side there’s basically a fuzzy strip of “actin” proteins that enable rapid bonding. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it drives home some points about the effectiveness of eccentric training.

Lay the two strips of velcro together. There’s your concentric phase.  Now, give those strips a solid and sustained tug along the horizontal axis. Pull hard, but not hard enough to release the velcro. That’s your isometric contraction. Now, pull hard enough to separate the strips. It will take a substantial amount of additional force to overcome the adhesion between the hook and the fuzz of the velcro. You will feel and hear all the little bonds pulling away, there’s inherently more force involved at every level.

That’s basically what’s happening in your muscle during every eccentric lift. Want to gain some muscle? You’ll need to put some focus here. Eccentric contractions build muscle. But they can also make you sore as all hell, which doesn’t totally correlate to potential #gainz, actually. But it is at least an indicator that you’re headed in the right direction.

Keep training and you’ll be able to regulate load and effect much better, it’s a skill that comes quickly.

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Learn more about muscle damage and performance. 

 

How can you work eccentrics into your training?

You really should give eccentric training a try. They really can make you much stronger and more muscular.

First, if you have access to specialized equipment, that’s great! Use it. I personally love my Adaptive Resistance Exercise device (ARXFit). But you can certainly perform effective eccentric training with traditional gym equipment.  Here are some examples:

1. Forced reps.

Use a load that’s about 70 – 75% of 1-rep max. Perform as many rep’s as possible, to the point of concentric failure. At that point have a partner or two, or three, help you out. Lower the weight again, but this time as slow as possible. This should generally take about 4 to 5-seconds. Do this for an additional 2-3 repetitions.

You can scale this technique up by accentuating the eccentric load.

Again, go to concentric failure, then perform 2-3 forced repetitions. But this time have a trusted partner manually apply some resistance to the bar. They’ll just push down on the load with moderate, even force. You don’t need much, trust me. That little bit extra negative load will exhaust eccentric strength levels, after you’ve hit concentric muscular failure.

Apply this to the bench press and your balls will be impinged upon your diaphragm, trust me. It’s brutal and highly effective.

The ARXFit device. Geek out.

 

2. Eccentric-only reps.

Remember, you can lower more than you can lift. You see that all the time when someone misses a big squat, for example. Going down isn’t the problem!

During eccentric-only repetitions you lower a really heavy load, but you’re going to have help lifting it. Use about 110%-120% of 1RM. Perform 4-6 eccentric-only reps with a tempo of 8-0-X-2. Lower the load for 8 seconds, then without a pause have a few training partners assist you as you lift the barbell as fast as possible on the concentric phase. At the top, pause for 2-seconds to “feel” the supra-maximal load.

Perform 4-6 sets with about 4-5 minutes of rest between sets.

Note: Eccentrics are extremely demanding. As with any form of training, build your work capacity over time. Be smart and slowly ramp it up.  Otherwise, you’ll overreach and possible injure yourself. You don’t want to do that.

Keith is helping to run PaleoFX 2015. Come party with the Barbell Shrugged crew down in Austin this April!

 

How should you program in eccentric work?  

You’ve got to have your end game in mind.

Eccentrics are a potent hypertrophic stimulus, so weight-class athletes might want to be careful about the volume of eccentrics in the overall training program. For instance, an weightlifter might do eccentric front squats once or twice a week to help them on the clean recovery. On the other hand, a bodybuilder might put eccentric emphasis on every single rep performed. I would call that the “perfect rep” mentality.

Generally performed in the 5-12 rep range, the tempo of the perfect-rep would be 5-1-X-1. The weight is lowered in a controlled 5-second tempo and then exploded back to the contracted position as rapidly as possible. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I set the load according to my ability to control the eccentric for that 5 seconds for each prescribed rep. I then adjust the weight accordingly, both per workout and over the long haul, so that I can keep the tempo in want. Maybe during another article I’ll tell you how to periodize tempo work over the long-term, but that’s another topic. For now, let’s just point out that keeping time is a great way of ensuring progress.

The load on the barbell will increase quickly all on its own. If you can keep the pace and not break tempo week to week you’ll will progress and grow very strong.

keithnorris

Practice what you preach. Keith looking swole. 

What about for athletes?

I feel that 80% of what athletes need to accomplish in the weight room – aside from mobility, prehab and rehab work – could be accomplished with eccentrics. Make your athletes really strong and explosive, then allow them to hone their competition skills and technique.

Remember, as a coach your primary focus in the gym is always “bang for buck.” Time is limited. The competition isn’t sitting around waiting for you. So, you need to get them really strong, quickly, and safely, so that you can funnel energy and resource into improving sport-specific skills.

You can’t beat eccentric work for that job.

If you have questions about eccentric training, and how you might apply these techniques, just leave them in the comments below. I’d be happy to help you out. Otherwise, we’ll see you in Austin, Texas this April for PaleoFX 2015!

Train hard,

Keith

12 Responses to “Boost Your Strength with Eccentric Training”

  1. Ken

    I’m a newbie working with free weights in my home. I’m currently doing Wendler 5/3/1. Any advice on the safest way to implement this into my routine? Would every rep be best or just the set that goes to failure? My goal is just to get stronger.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Keith Norris

    Hey, Ken –

    Depends on how “newbie” you really are. If you’ve got less than a solid year or so under your belt, it’s best just to focus on dialing in the individual lifts with steady and controlled reps and basic run of old school linear programming. That will be plenty of stimulus alone to get you rolling and up to speed. Milk the results from that first before delving into the “300-level courses”. And, too, this will give you time for your body to build the wherewithal to handling eccentric-emphasis work without pushing you over a cliff. Eccentrics are potent medicine that needs to be titrated-in in a conservative manner.

    Reply
  3. Parker

    Dating back to Ironman magazine and the work at Nautilus/Arthur Jones, negative training has been an excellent option for everything from working exercises where injuries prevent the standard positive/negative approach along with addressing sticking points etc. Many of Nautilus’ machines provided excellent options for negative training; with free weights, a little creativity goes a long way. Negative dips, negative chins and rows, etc.

    When I trained at Nautilus gyms, all you needed was one set of properly performed to get the job done. They made sure of that… :)

    Reply
  4. Keith Norris

    Parker –

    We have an old school/nuke-proof, plate-loaded Nautilus pullover at one of our Austin Efficient Exercise studios. It’s a prized possession. Follow-on negative on that sum-bitch are murderous 😉

    Reply
    • Parker

      Keith – Back in the day, that machine was given the nickname “Big Blue” and rightfully so. BTW, one of Arthur’s early pullover machines was allegedly in Tulsa, OK, at the downtown YMCA for years. I went there to check it out when I was in town and for all I know, it could have been…the machine was a monster and took up quite a bit of floor space.

      Gold’s also had one in the 80s–saw Mike & Ray and a third training partner on it. (No Nautilus at Vince’s Gym however–besides he and Jones having their disagreements, Vince seemed to be fond of exercises that weren’t the best for your joints–chest presses to the neck & upright rows, for example, which were shoulder wreckers. Only trained there five or six times.)

      Reply
  5. Juan Fulano

    No discussion on eccentric training would be complete without a mention of weight releasers.

    Reply
    • Chris

      I don’t agree. They are cool, but in practice, I didn’t find them essential. I think Louie agrees with me. He uses eccentrics, and has played with WR’s, but he didn’t keep them in the rotation at Westside. I think, in practice, they aren’t as cool as the idea is on paper. Also keep in mind, I did my Masters Thesis on Weight releasers and eccentrics. You can use them, and I hope they work for you. But others have chosen to move on.

      Reply
      • Parker

        Hi Chris,

        I’ve been to Westside while in the area visiting family and/or business and most of the trainees there don’t represent objective training, IMHO. Lots & lots & lots of wraps, lifting shirts, and set ups for assisted lifting along with individuals possibly (legal disclaimer) on PEDs.

        Negatives have been in use, successfully, for decades in the strength game…powerlifters advocated them back in the old Hoffman and Rader mags as plateau busters and bodybuilders such as Mike and Ray Mentzer included them as part of their training programs. (And all things being equal in bodybuilding–they’re all on steroids, HGH, etc., clearly negatives did work as Mike was the only bodybuilder to win the Universe title with a perfect score.)

        Best –

        Reply
        • Chris

          They are pretty open about drug use. I’m certainly well aware. That said, you underestimate the validity of louie’s stuff. Gear aside, he’s produced strong athletes, most of which were from his local area. Also, he’s actually made great contributions to fight training, etc.

          I’m not doubting the utility in some settings of the releasers. They can be considered like bands, as far as I’m concerned. I believe people who say they don’t need them, and others that say they’re great. Adding eccentric load is valid. But still, I don’t find the releasers ESSENTIAL to the discussion (even though I studied them for my thesis). If they were, you’d naturally see them utilized far more frequently. Only my opinion.

          Cheers,

          Reply
  6. emmitt

    Is this all by feel? I’ve never seen any percentage based weights- reps -sets program for eccentric phases that I could find useful.

    Reply

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