Eccentric Training – Training Negatively Can be Positive
Too many amateur gym goers think that all it takes to gain muscles is the movement or exercise.
But what can seriously improve the effectiveness of your workout is knowledge of other factors such as speed, time under tension and eccentric contraction.
In this article, I will focus on the eccentric contraction phase, which is also known as negatives or negative training.
This is a more advanced bodybuilding technique that can help you increase your workout intensity and break through any plateaus.
This is possible because negative training allows you to push your muscles past their normal point of failure.
However, use it sparingly.
What Is Eccentric Contraction?
For every weight lifting action, there are three movements
- Concentric: working part where the muscle contracts/shortens
- Isometric: muscle activated and force generated but with no movement
- Eccentric/negative: muscle lengthens, as gravity is trying to pull the weight to where it started so muscles must lengthen so the weight does not fall abruptly on you
1. Bench press – pushing the bar is the concentric phase, and lowering is the eccentric phase
2. Lat pulldown – pulling the weights down is the concentric phase, and letting them raise is the eccentric phase
Muscles can produce the most force in the eccentric phase, followed by the isometric phase and then the concentric phase.
Eccentric training is about focusing on the eccentric contraction of your muscles (doing in a slow and controlled manner).
There are different ways of doing so, which will be shown further down in this article.
History of Eccentric Training
Erling Asmussen introduced the idea of negative training in 1953, and it started gaining traction in the 1970s, and has been tested and proven since then.
One such experiment in 2009: The effects of eccentric versus concentric resistance training on muscle strength and mass in healthy adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis.
Other than bodybuilding, it has been used as a rehabilitation technique as well.
Why Does Eccentric Training Work?
Because eccentric contractions cause greater muscle damage and so provide the stimulus to make your muscles grow and strengthen.
I shall use a simple scientific explanation to let you comprehend the meaning behind negatives.
For muscles to grow, you need to bring about microscopic tears to the muscle fibers and let them repair and regenerate.
Muscles are made up of many muscle fibers, and a motor unit is comprised of all the muscle fibers that are innervated by a single nerve cell (neuron).
When a motor unit is turned on, it creates a mechanical force.
Each motor unit is either turned on and is fully contracted or turned off and fully relaxed.
Another key point is that not all of the motor units of a muscle has to be activated at the same time when a muscle contracts.
In the eccentric contraction during weight lifting, motor units are turned off to lower a weight. In other words, fewer motor units are used. This is because muscles are stronger on the eccentric portion of the rep.
Using a fictitious example, in the concentric phase of lifting a weight, let’s say you use 10 motor units to lift a 100KG load. So for each motor unit, they will be exposed to 10KG of tension.
But in the eccentric phase, you turn off 3 motor units, and the remaining 7 motor units will be exposed to 14.3KG of tension each, which is an increase of 43% of tension for each motor unit!
To sum up, eccentric contractions allow greater force production in addition to less fiber recruitment, which means the fibers are stressed more and more damage occurs.
But what about the other 3 motor units which have been switched off?
Not to worry, because when you get stronger via eccentric training, you naturally can lift heavier during concentric contractions.
How to Do Eccentric Training?
1. Slow and Controlled
One way is to really concentrate on the eccentric contractions and do it in a slow and controlled motion. You can use a tempo of 1 second lifting and 4 seconds lowering.
It is important to keep your weight lifting motion continuous, don’t pause for a short while right after lowering.
2. Do Eccentric-Only Contractions
Use a training partner to help you set up the concentric contractions, and you will only have to do the eccentric contractions.
This method allows you to do weights heavier than your 1 rep max (1RM), as it has been proven that muscles are stronger in the eccentric phase as compared to the concentric phase.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association suggest using 125% of your 1RM (1). And keep it to 3 sets of 6-10 reps.
NOTE: There should be a continuous, progressive buildup of eccentric training. As such, if you are a beginner, go for a lower percentage, such as 105%.
E.g. For bench press, your training partner could help you lift the bar up, and you only have to lower the bar.
3. Forced Negatives
This is a combination of forced reps and negatives.
When you cannot do another rep, get your training partner to do the concentric part of the exercise, and then you will do the eccentric part yourself.
Do 2-4 times until you hit failure.
It is recommended that forced negatives only be used for the last rep of your set to completely fatigue your muscles.
What Exercises Should I Do Eccentric Training In?
Generally, negative training is especially effective for compound exercises. But it can still be used for any exercise that can be effectively spotted.
What if I don’t have a partner?
You can perform eccentric training for exercises where only one hand is used, and so you can use the other to complete the concentric phase.
As mentioned at the start of the article, use this technique sparingly.
Why? Because this brings about more damage to your muscle fibers, and it is likely to lead to overtraining as you may neglect the additional rest and recovery you need.
It also puts a lot of stress on your joints and tendons and you may suffer from overuse injuries.
Furthermore, it is important to do it with the right form, lest you risk major damage to your connective tissues as well as your muscles by stretching them too much.
(1) Schoenfeld, B. (2011). The Use of Specialized Training Techniques to Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy. Strength and Conditioning Journal. Volume 33. Number 4, 60-65. http://www.fmh.utl.pt/agon/cpfmh/docs/documentos/recursos/110/Hipertrofia_series.pdf
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