Knowing the difference between an eccentric and concentric muscle contraction may be the most important fact to know when it comes to resistance training. The eccentric muscle contraction is the movement going down, or lengthening of the targeted muscle. For example, an eccentric contraction would be the “down” movement when doing biceps curls. The concentric movement is the shortening of the muscle, or the “up” movement. We naturally tend to focus on the concentric contraction when working out, but rarely put much thought into how we eccentrically lower the weight back to the starting position. Well, you should start.
Much research has been dedicated to determining which movement is more important. A meta- analysis, or large review of multiple studies, supports that eccentric movements are more important than concentric movements when trying to build muscle mass. A 2009 article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine states:
Eccentric training performed at high intensities was shown to be more effective in promoting increases in muscle mass measured as muscle girth. In addition, eccentric training also showed a trend towards increased muscle cross-sectional area measured with magnetic resonance imaging or computerised tomography. Subgroup analyses suggest that the superiority of eccentric training to increase muscle strength and mass appears to be related to the higher loads developed during eccentric contractions.
In short, it take more effort for you to slowly lower the weight to the starting position in a controlled matter than it does to power it upwards against gravity. Often, weight lifters use the time to return the weight to the starting position as the time to rest. A big mistake. Again, (I can’t stress this enough) you will build larger, stronger muscles if you slowly return the weight back to the starting position.
What tempo to use then? When lifting weights, you want to move the weight upwards over a 2-4 second count and move the weight downwards over a 4-5 second count. Begin to lift this way, and you will notice that your core muscles are also being worked more! If you don’t use this method to workout, you are wasting a lot of time.
As far a variations are concerned, sure there are times when you want to move weight fast to build endurance. For example, if you are doing a circuit workout, you may try to perform as many repetitions as you can in a given time period. In this setting, it is okay to go fast because your goal to improve endurance is different. Overall, varying your lifting pace will give you the best results. But always remember, the eccentric contraction is just as, if not more important than the concentric contraction.
I don’t know about you, but I will place the eccentric contraction in the forefront of my attention for every repetition that I perform from here on.
Have you noticed a difference since using eccentric contractions? Share your thoughts below!