By Coach Chris Collins, CPT
This month’s blog post, we’re focusing on slow, heavy eccentrics.
Now, hold on. I’m not talking about your overweight uncle who carries dead birds in his trench coat pocket, still has conversations with Elvis, and hangs out underneath highway overpasses when he’s off work from the circus.
No, the eccentrics I’m talking about refer to the negative portion of each exercise. You have the concentric, or positive phase, of each lift; the isometric, or the end range of motion of the lift; and then the eccentric, or the negative, lowering portion of each exercise.
Most folks focus on the concentric portion of each exercise. Think Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy, “if you heard me counting, I did over a thousand.” It’s what “counts.”
Of course, you have to lift a weight in order to lower it, but the eccentric portion of each exercise should not be overlooked.
In that oft-referred to bible of strength training, “Supertraining,” authors Verhkoshanskey and Siff maintain that you can use quite a bit more weight during the eccentric portion of your lift than the concentric portion. That is because there are less motor units involved in the eccentric phase, which places more of a demand on the motor units that are doing the work.
In fact, research suggests that you can withstand up to 13 times more tension in the eccentric phase than the concentric. More tension means more stress to the muscles, which leads to muscle and strength gains.
A great illustration of our use of eccentric training at LiveWELL is the halfsey push-up. We mention it so often as a variation of the traditional push-up in team training, that its contribution can be overlooked. Between knee and toe position push-ups, we use the halfsey variation. After the completion of each push-up from the knee, the halfsey calls for the exerciser to straighten out the knees so bodyweight is distributed over the entire body before lowering to the ground and dropping the knees to the floor and pushing back up.
Over on the semi-private side, we have more tools, time, and opportunity to play with exercise variables. Oftentimes we’ll focus on the eccentric portion by setting up five second intervals on a timer and having you lower yourself, say, while squatting, for five seconds. While the load is not increased in relation to the concentric phase, like the halfsey push-up example above, time is emphasized during the eccentric portion, which again leads to increased strength and performance in those exercises.
There are many different ways to manipulate exercises for strength and performance gains. Try focusing on the eccentric portion to take your workouts to the next level. You might find it is not as crazy as it sounds.