Once upon a time in a gym not-so-far-away, the weight room may have seemed like the fairly straightforward place. You picked up a kettlebell or dumbbell and executed a set of moves—maybe bicep curls, maybe sumo squats—from start to finish. Then, you moved on with your life, never knowing that eccentric exercise (also known as negative training) may just be the key to getting—and staying—stronger than you ever imagined possible.
There are two stages to every movement—eccentric and concentric—according to Tatiana Lampa, corrective exercise specialist and trainer at FitHouse. “[Eccentric is] the motion of the active muscle while it’s lengthening during a load,” explains Lampa. Concentric movement, by contrast, is the motion of the active muscle when it’s shortening during the load. In a crunch, for example, you’re moving concentrically when you press your chest upward and contract your abs, and you move eccentrically as you lower down.
When you’re training with eccentrics, the goal is to stress the lengthening part of every movement. Meaning, you might come up in the crunch for one second, then try to lower down for three. The results are some pretty serious gains, says Lampa. And a ton (and I mean, a ton) of research backs her up. Keep scrolling to find out more.
4 benefits of eccentric exercises to memorize now
1. Negatives yield more muscle growth per rep
Research has shown that if you were to place two lifters side by side and have one do normal reps, while the other did negatives, weightlifter number two would see their muscle size and strength increase at a faster rate. A word to the wise: Negatives stress the more difficult part of a movement and therefore do more microdamage to whatever muscle group you’re working. You’re therefore more likely to experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and need to make sure you’re not training eccentrics every time you’re at the gym. Once a week will do.
2. Eccentric exercise has been shown to make you more flexible
This benefit makes logical sense, right? Since you’re focusing on the lengthening part of your movements and physically pulling your muscles with weight, you should feel whatever muscle you’re targeting get bendy. A research review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found “consistent, strong evidence” that this was the case, particularly for lower body exercises. (So next time you’re doing those single leg RDLs, make them negatives to get you closer to touching your toes.)
3. Eccentric exercises lower your risk of injury
Lampa tells me that—as an exercise specialist—this is her number one reason for training her clients with negatives. “My favorite part of eccentric exercises is that they’ve been shown to help build incredible strength and decrease risk of injuries,” she says. There are a couple of reasons why. First, negatives make you use muscle over momentum. And second, they help build your connective tissue. In other words, eccentric exercise can act as a spot treatment for weak muscles.
4. Eccentric training overall lets you perform better
“Data reported by several studies suggests that stretch combined with overloading, as in eccentric contractions, is the most effective stimulus for promoting muscle growth and enhancing the neural drive to muscle,” write study authors Nosratollah Hedayatpour, PhD and Deborah Falla, PhD in a study published in Hindawi. The combination of both neurological and physical benefits mean that eccentric training outpaces both concentric and isometric training.
Try these moves to get you started with eccentric exercise
“The beauty of eccentric training is that you’re able to add this into any, or at least most, exercises you do,” says Lampa. “You can simply do it with your push-ups and squats at home.” That includes everything from the leg press machine to the abductor and adductor machines and more. But below, Lampa shares a starter pack of moves to try next time you find yourself at the gym.
For each move, complete three sets of eight to 12 reps once a week. If you choose to use weights that account for more then 80 percent of your body mass, Lampa recommends sticking with a lower number of reps: between five and eight.
1. Eccentric squats
Step 1: Start with your feet wide in a strong stance.
Step 2: Shift back, keeping your chest forward and pouring the weight into your heels for a count of three seconds as you lower. (Your glutes are lengthening here, meaning they’re getting the eccentric treatment.)
Step 3: Squeeze your butt as you straighten your legs for one count.
2. eccentric push-ups
Step 1: Begin in plank position with your shoulders over your wrists, your abs engaged, and your back flat.
Step 2: Bend your elbows straight back, lowering all the way to the ground of a count of three seconds.
Step 3: Keeping your body in one straight line, push off the ground and return to plank position.
3. Eccentric Bicep curls
Step 1: Start standing with your feet a little more than hip-width distance apart, holding barbell in each hand. Your palms should be facing forward.
Step 2: Curl both weight into your chest for a count of one.
Step 3: Lower the weights to a count of three, returning them to be beside your hips.
4. Hamstring curls on a stability ball
Step 1: Start lying on your back with your hips in the air, your knees bent, and your feet on the exercise ball.
Step 2: For a count of three, extend your legs out until they’re in a straight line.
Step 3: Engage your glutes and hamstring to bend your knees back so they’re directly over your ankles.
5. Eccentric Tricep dips
Step 1: Place your back up against a workout bench with your feet straight in front of you.
Step 2: Grip your hands around the bench directly behind your ribs and straighten your arms.
Step 3: To a count of three, slowly lower your elbows so that your biceps are parallel to the floor.
Step 4: Hold, then press back up to a count of one.
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