Multiple studies have shown that your body can tolerate up to 1.75 times more resistance eccentrically (lowering a weight, when your muscles start in a contracted position and relax) than it can concentrically (lifting a weight, when your muscles start in a relaxed position and contract).
Eccentric training also known as negative training is a training method where you put a greater emphasis on the eccentric (lowering) portion of each rep, such as the downward portion of squats, or lowering the barbell in a bench press, to increase muscle activation for maximum GAINS!
How To Perform
To perform Eccentric Training choose an exercise and a weight that is typically 30%-40% heavier than what you can usually use for a desired rep range. Have your training partner hand over the weight, then slowly perform the lowering (eccentric) phase of the movement taking approximately 4-5 seconds. After completing the eccentric phase of the movement, have your training partner assist you to lift the weight back to the starting position before repeating.
For example, let’s say you can bench press 100kg for 8 reps before reaching failure. For Eccentric Training load anywhere from 110kg-130kg on the bar and perform 8 negative reps using the eccentric training method. The added weight will stimulate a higher percentage of muscle fibers and help to prime your CNS to adapt to handling such a large increase in load.
There are a number of ways to incorporate Eccentric Training into your workouts. The three most common are:
Eccentric Focus Sets (AKA Time Under Tension)
Start with a weight you can normally use for 10-12 standard reps for a particular exercise. Begin with the eccentric phase, lowering the weight over 5–8 seconds (thus emphasizing the eccentric phase of the exercise). Then execute the concentric contraction, lifting the load within 1 second moving as fast as possible. Repeat until you have completed 10-12 repetitions. You will likely need assistance with the concentric portion of the lift as you start to fatigue to ensure you are focusing on the eccentric phase of each rep.
To make progress, simply increase the time during the eccentric (lowering) portion of the lift, or increase the amount of weight used from week to week.
Finishing Eccentric Reps
Start with a weight you can normally use for 10-12 standard reps for a particular exercise. Complete a normal set until all 10-12 standard reps are complete and concentric muscle failure is reached. Then using the assistance of a spotter to take a majority of the load on the concentric portion, immediately lower the weight over 5-8 seconds focusing on slow controlled eccentric reps. Repeat this cycle for another 5-8 eccentric only reps or until complete eccentric muscle failure is reached.
Supramaximal Eccentric Sets
Start with a weight 105% of what you can normally use for 10-12 standard reps for a particular exercise. Have a spotter help you un-rack the weight and lift the concentric portion of the lift over 1–2 seconds. Then, with your training partner paying close attention, lower the weight by yourself over 3-5 seconds with the aim of emphasising the eccentric phase of the lift. Continue to perform reps until you cannot perform the eccentric phase of the movement without assistance.
Over time you should aim to progressively increase the supramaximal load (i.e., 107%, 110%, 115%, up to 125%) as your body adapts to greater eccentric training challenges.
A unique feature of Eccentric Training is that it causes considerably more ‘micro tears’ and muscle damage to the large myofibrila fibers, resulting in increased soreness when compared to concentric training. It is therefore advised to use eccentric training sparingly across a training week, perhaps only once per week for each muscle group to reduce the risk of injury and ensure delayed onset muscle soreness does not get out of hand!
The following are examples of where you may want to incorporate Eccentric Training for each muscle group:
Chest: Use Finishing Eccentric Reps to bump up the effectiveness of your pressing movements – both barbell and dumbbell.
Back: Eccentric pull-ups are a fantastic tool to develop the pulling power for regular pull-ups. To perform a set of eccentric pull ups either find a bar you can jump your chin up over the bar, or use a spotter to aid you to the top. Then once your chin is over the bar lower yourself for a 5 count to the very bottom (no flopping!) before returning to the start
Arms: A favourite use of eccentric reps as a burnout set for any bicep/ tricep workout. Using a weight you will fail around 12, perform as many curls or pushdowns as you can then using a spotter aim to perform another 8-10 slow negatives for a deep burn.
Quads: Using barbell back squats and box jumps, do a set of 3-5 negative heavy back squats then straight into explosive box jumps, aiming to jump as high as possible to develop power and speed in a fatigued state.
Hamstrings: In order to develop true athletic power the Glute Hamstring raise is the king. However, most people struggle performing these to start with, using eccentric reps controlling your descent will result in amazing hamstring strength and power.
Calves: Eccentric training for your Calves is primarily used to rehab achilles tendon injuries where you lower using one foot then use both feet to return to the starting position, however this could be adapted to increased loads on the leg press or calf raise machine.
Abdominals: Ab wheel rollout with emphasis on the eccentric is a great way to increase time under tension and stimulate more abdominal fibers, and an awesome finisher to any Ab workout.
Adding Eccentric Training to your workouts is a great way to increase the amount of volume as well as overload the negative portion of exercises, which allows you to recruit more muscle fibres. Thus creating a greater stimulus to encourage growth and strength in working muscles.
There are numerous benefits to adding these methods to your training, such as:
Added Strength & Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth)
Many athletes use a 1 Rep Max (RM) as a measure of strength increases. A higher 1RM therefore gives an athlete a higher relative training volume and thus potential to increase muscle size and power. There are many theories as to why eccentric training increases muscular strength, such as enhanced “mind muscle connection”, higher stored elastic energy and increased muscle hypertrophy. The “mind muscle connection is greater in eccentric exercises due to a greater stress placed upon the muscle spindles. These muscle spindles regulate the speed and length of a stretch. A greater stretch on the muscle causes muscle spindles to activate an increase in firing motor nerves in order to control the stretch. This increase in active motor nerves is responsible for greater strength and contractile forces.
Stronger Connective Tissue
Eccentric training places a great amount of force on tendons and ligaments, forcing them to grow thicker and stronger. If you play any kind of physical sport, strengthening joints has many obvious benefits, so adding eccentrics is a great way to strengthen joints as well as muscles.
Lifting heavy weights takes its toll on your Central Nervous System (CNS) as most of the energy is expended in the concentric phase of lifting. Adding eccentric training methods allows you to continue to train muscle groups well after all the concretnic energy has left the muscle, resulting in bigger, stronger, more powerful muscles.
During the negative portion of the lift, your muscle fibers are contracting while actively lengthening. this causes an increase in sarcomeres in series within the muscle. If that went over your head, ill leave you with this, studies have shown extensively that heavy eccentric lifts have been shown to promote muscle flexibility and a long muscle is a strong muscle.
Eccentric Exercise and Boosting Metabolism
Research has shown that exercises with an eccentric focus can raise the Resting Energy Expenditure (REE) after a full body workout on both trained, and untrained individuals. The researchers found that after performing a full body workout with an emphasis on eccentric loading (1 second up, 3 seconds down) on all exercises elevated REE approximately 9% after the workout. This increase is likely caused by the factors associated with DOMS and the entire muscle repair processes.
Pulling Workout (Back & Biceps)
Exercise 1: Seated Row with Eccentric Focus
Sets 1-5: Working sets. Using a weight that you will fail around 8-12 reps. Begin each rep by using a normal tempo pulling towards your chest, paused for a second then perform a slow 5 second eccentric, repeat for every rep.
Exercise 2: Negative Lat Pulldown, superset with Pull ups (5 Sets)
Sets 1-5: Working sets, Using a spotter to help with pulling the bar down, perform a set of 8 slow 5 second negatives with a heavy weight. Without rest immediately go straight into a Max set of pullups, pulling as fast as you can.
Exercise 3: Barbell Curls (5 sets)
Sets 1-5: Pick a weight that you will fail between 12-15 reps and perform a max set of barbell curls to failure. Then using your spotter to assist you lift the concentric phase of the lift perform another 5 reps using 5 second controlled eccentrics.