Eccentric and Concentric Movements
With exercise and strength training, often big gains come from small changes in form and process. Just as focusing on following through with the full range of motion can lead to increases in strength, emphasizing the eccentric motion of the exercises you’re already performing can also unlock added benefits.
Concentric vs Eccentric
Muscle movement can be broken down into concentric and eccentric motion. Concentric muscle contraction is what you may typically think of with exercise. It is the standard contraction and lifting motion, when the muscle shortens and its two connection points come close together. This movement is acting against the force of gravity and improves the muscle's ability to pull and lift.
The eccentric contraction is utilizing the same muscle, but acts in the lowering part of the motion. As the muscle lengthens, the two connection points of the muscle get further apart, but the muscle continues to contract and still exerts force on the weight. It acts as a sort of braking mechanism, slowing down the lowering movement and preventing the weight from pulling down too quickly with the force of gravity. Because of this, eccentric contraction is best activated by slowing down the lowering movement of an exercise. It helps to have a set time for the lowering action, in order to keep yourself on pace.
When starting eccentric training, you may find that you cannot use the same weight that you do with concentric contractions, and you may not able to lower the weight slowly. This type of motion requires much more muscle control and is considerably more difficult with heavier weights. Start with a smaller load first to prevent injury, and work your way up as you adjust and increase your strength.
Benefits of Eccentric
Utilizing eccentric contraction to continue to add tension and force on a muscle as it lengthens, as opposed to when it shortens, trains the muscle in a drastically different way. Because of the way the muscle is constructed, there is more of a load on on each motor unit of the muscle, so more tension is applied to the muscle fibers. This can lead to greater gains in strength as well as the creation of more muscle mass.
Furthermore, by training with slower speeds, the muscles can adapt to increase control and stability. This focus on slowing down also helps to concentrate on form and technique, which helps strengthen stability muscles, and decrease risk of injury. Additionally, there has been a correlation between the ability to lower weights slowly and an increase in strength.
This all comes together to help to bring more diversity into the exercises you're performing. Because of the different movement and focus involved, it leads to more varied effects on the body, and keeps your workout routine from feeling boring and stale. It's a great way to switch up a program without changing too much.
By changing your focus during the same exercise, and concentrating on a different aspect of the same motion, you can achieve drastically different results. As with any exercise program, make sure to give the body enough time to recover and recuperate properly after eccentric training. Avoiding overuse is key to injury prevention, and building up a consistent, safe, and productive fitness routine. The trick is to start small and light, and move on from there after developing a solid base. Have fun, and enjoy the benefits of working your body in a new way!