Slow Your Roll, Get Stronger

Slow Eccentric Training For Greater Gains

Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash

When it comes to resistance training, more is better right? The more weight you can lift, the stronger you’ll become. The principle of progressive overload is built around this concept. For your body to adapt and get stronger, you must present it with an adequate level of stress to spur adaptation. Eccentric training is one way to add stress to enable that change.

Concentric and Eccentric Contractions

Whenever you perform a resistance exercise, the muscles being worked will always perform these contractions, though not necessarily in the same order depending on the exercise. We’ll use push-ups and pull-ups as our example movements.

A concentric contraction occurs when the muscles are being shortened. During the push-up, this happens when pushing up from the floor. The pecs, triceps, and anterior deltoids work as a unit to move you. During a pull-up, it's when you’re pulling yourself up. Your lats, rhomboids, and biceps are the primary movers here.

An eccentric contraction occurs when the muscles are being lengthened. During the push-up and pull-up, it's during the lowering phase of the movement. The eccentric phase is also where most of the muscle-building magic occurs. Our muscles are stronger when contracting eccentrically, which makes it a perfect place to add more stress. Adding more weight during the eccentric works great in theory, but not practice, let's give an example.

Imagine you can back squat 100 pounds as your 1 rep maximum. Now think about when during the squat you’ll be exerting the most effort. Pressing up from the bottom of the squat is by far harder than lowering down the weight. Even if you could only perform a full squat with 100 pounds, you could perform the eccentric lowering portion with 150 pounds. By now you can see that changing weights mid exercise isn’t a great option to take advantage of this eccentric strength. Fortunately, we have another variable to manipulate to our advantage.

Add Time, Add Strength

Instead of adding weight, you add time to the eccentric contraction. Imagine you do a set of 15 push-ups, where each push-up takes 2 seconds, 1 down 1 up, so that entire set would last 30 seconds. Now do those same push-ups but take 3 seconds to lower down each rep, that same set now takes a minute to complete. I guarantee you’ll feel much more fatigued after completing the slow set than the regular set.

As for counting, I recommend speaking it out loud to yourself instead of just saying it in your mind, or have the stopwatch on your phone easily visible.

This is a great tool to apply when you don’t have access to external weights and rely on bodyweight exercises. It’s also perfect for when you have light weights that wouldn't normally push you to fatigue. Of course, you can do this with heavier weights too, just don’t expect to get as many reps as you usually do. This is a great method to apply when you feel like you’re stagnating on a lift as well.

To conclude, taking advantage of a longer eccentric contraction is an effective yet simple method to increase the intensity of almost any resistance movement. I recommend starting with bodyweight movements like push-ups, squats, and pull-ups or inverted rows. Focus on the muscles being used and allow them to pull you into position, I think you’ll be surprised by how much more challenging this easy change make your workouts.

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