Eccentric exercises are a very effective means to help build muscles and learn skills, among many other benefits. Understanding what eccentric exercises are and how to use them in your training will help your training in the long term. Let’s look at what eccentric exercises are and provide you with 5 examples you can use in your training.
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Eccentric is a term used when a muscle is applying force whilst it is lengthening. Technically, every time you perform a squat or press up there is an eccentric phase. As you are lowering yourself to the floor you are lengthening the muscles whilst they are applying force. Concentric is the inverse, a concentric contraction is where the muscle is shortening whilst it is contracting.
Eccentric exercises are exercises where the emphasis is put on the eccentric contraction. Exercises where the eccentric component of the movement is the majority of the work are called eccentric movements, because technically the vast majority of movements have both eccentric and concentric contractions. The eccentric press up is a great example of a eccentric exercises that is very beneficial for building strength.
Tempo is when we use a different speed / pace on a certain phase of the movement. It is written as four numbers, for example 3211. Each number corresponds to part of the movement, eccentric, pause at the bottom/top, concentric, pause at the bottom/top. In this example if we use a press up, we would do an eccentric contraction of 3 seconds with a two second pause at the bottom, a relatively fast concentric and a slight pause at the top of the repetition.
Tempo needs to be understood to apply eccentric training correctly into your training. If you want to do an eccentric movement for your legs, you will benefit greatly from doing a squat, say a Back Squat. If you only look for eccentric only movements for legs, you will be very limited. This is where tempo comes into play. With tempo we can make almost any movement an “eccentric exercise” by adding time onto the eccentric phase of the exercise. By prescribing a Tempo Back Squat with a tempo of 51X1 we will be loading the eccentric portion of the movement in a very challenging way.
Hypertrophy can be induced by challenging eccentric and concentric loading. Eccentric loading allows for more time under tension, which is important to building muscle and is a great strategy to use is training blocks for muscle growth. We need induce a lot of fatigue in the muscles to help them grow and eccentric exercises or eccentric tempos certainly allow for this to be achieved.
Another very good application of eccentric exercises is skill acquisition. When learning to squat and deadlift, performing the eccentric phase slowly with control can be hugely beneficial when getting to grips with the movement pattern. If your currently trying to learn a movement, try adding a slow eccentric phase to the movement and see if it helps with your skill acquisition.
Taking deloads, periodic breaks from high training intensity, can be a great way to build a sustainable training practice. Using eccentric phases in deloads can be a good way to move through the key movement patterns. This will involve using very light weights as the eccentric loading will make traditional deload weights more challenging.
Using eccentric loading during the warm up is a great way to prepare the body to perform a certain movement pattern. If for example you are about to do a heavy back squat session, doing Tempo Air Squats with a three second eccentric phase could be a great warm up option and help you find your groove with the movement pattern before lifting any weights.
I really enjoy using eccentric loading in hypertrophy blocks, especially on the back squat. Creating a training cycle with a 3 or 4 second eccentric phase with 8+ repetitions is a sure way to build muscle when coupled with high amounts of weekly working sets. This is a very effective way to build eccentric training into your training regime.
Eccentric movements can also be used for strength development (1). Strength development involves less repetitions and more force production (heavier weights). An example of using eccentric exercise for strength is the eccentric press up. If you are working towards your first press up, then these can be a great strength training exercises to help build strength in the horizontal press movement pattern.
This style of training can also be applied to more advanced trainees on exercises like the bench press, where the weight is slowly lowered to the chest and two training partners lift it back to the rack. This will allow the overload of the eccentric phase. Please do not do this without appropriate spotting from other experienced lifters.
Eccentric exercises can also be used for rehabilitation and injury mitigation. Although this is true of all strength training eccentric training seems to be extremely popular here. I do not believe it to more more effective than general strength training, but it is still a valuable tool to be used in both cases.
The eccentric press up is a great example of how the eccentric training style can be used to build strength. This exercise is the perfect building block towards the press up. For many females and beginner males this will be a very challenging exercise, it should not be performed if unable to maintain good technique and a tight core throughout.
The single legs step down is a very good unilateral squat exercise that is effective at building stability in the knees and hips. It will also encourage mobility in the lower body if performed progressively. I personally use this exercise a great deal on holiday when I don’t have access to weights.
The ring dip eccentric is a great exercise to build strength in the upper body. This is particularly for those working towards a strict ring muscle up and are wanting to improve their strength in the dip portion of the movement.
Very much like the eccentric push up, the eccentric pull up is a brilliant building block towards the pull up. Getting your first pull up can be a very challenging task, patience and good exercise selection is required. This exercise is perfect to help build specific strength in the pull up.
The ring row eccentric is a very specific exercise that will typically only be used with extreme beginners. This will be too easy for the vast majority of beginners, but for many elderly individuals or those who are obese or extremely sedentary this can be a good selection of exercise.
I wanted to add a non eccentric only exercise to show that all exercises can be used to challenge the eccentric phase of the movement pattern through adding a specific tempo. This can be done by using tempo back squats, specifically through adding a slow tempo to the eccentric phase of the movement.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.