Eccentric training, which is also known as negative resistance, is a popular training style among athletes, powerlifters, bodybuilders and general fitness enthusiasts. And for good reason. And to answer the question, isss it better? Well, that depends on your goals. Eccentric training can effectively impact strength and muscle size – sometimes the increase is even greater than traditional forms of training. This occurs when the weight is being lowered and the same muscles that lifted the weight lengthen in a controlled manner (instead of simply falling from a force of gravity). But before incorporating this style into your training, there are some considerations to be aware of (so go on, read on).
How do you perform eccentric training?
Remember the muscle action basics we covered? Eccentric training can be when performing the eccentric phase and using a resistance greater than the 1RM. Or, it can be performed by lifting with both limbs using a resistance greater than 1RM of one arm/leg then lowering it with only one limb. There is also the type of training termed accentuated eccentric training (read on for clarification).
Some popular examples include: Negative singles (most common form), forced reps (partner assisted), eccentric tempo (i.e. 3-5 seconds), bilateral concentric/unilateral eccentric, overloaded eccentric/explosive concentric and super slow eccentric (i.e. 10-30 second descent).
Great for muscle size.
First, eccentric training may have the most chance for increases in hypertrophy because fast twitch fibers hypertrophy to a greater extent. So eccentric training may actually increase hypertrophy when compared to traditional resistance training. Basically, if you are looking for growth and size, eccentric training is an effective way to gain muscle, faster.
Now let’s talk about some strength benefits.
- Eccentric training can have a huge impact on leg musculature in terms of strength.
- Eccentric only training has been proven to increase maximal strength.
- For example, there are studies that show accentuated eccentric training has shown to increase strength to a greater extent than traditional training.
Wait, what is accentuated eccentric training?
Accentuated training is when the loading pattern of the eccentric phase of a rep is followed by the concentric phase with a lower load. There are a few ways to perform such training:
- Some machines can give the ability to lift with both limbs (using a resistance greater than the 1RM of one arm or leg) and then lowering it with only one limb.
- Another way to achieve this is by using spotters to add more weight after the weight is lifted, having spotters apply resistance during the eccentric phase, or have them help with lifting the resistance (that is heavier than 1RM) and then the lifter would perform the eccentric portion on their own.
- Another option would be to use weight hooks. The lifter would perform the eccentric phase with the heavier load, but once the base of the hooks touches the ground the extra weight is released, then less weight can be lifted for the concentric phase of the lift. I like these because a spotter is not required.
Recommendations for effective programming.
Ok, so how do you find the optimal resistance for eccentric training? Although strength and hypertrophy can be achieved at varying loads, for maximal gains you may want to keep two things in mind.
- Choose a load that can be lowered slowly and stopped.
- Use about 120% of the concentric 1RM as an optimal load for negatives. In other words, heavier than 1RM is good but don’t go hard, hard.
Considerations – specifically delayed onset muscle soreness.
Onto the really important stuff. A disadvantage to such training is the development of greater DOMS than traditional training.
- 49% of people experience strength loss immediately
- 33% still have DOMS 24 hours after
- ~ 21% may not have full recovery for 26 days
DOMS is the internal reaction to maximal and sub-maximal loading, which will cause excessive sores and strength loss. Why this happens more in this type of training isn’t super clear. However, it’s likely a combination of:
- Inflammation, edema and structural damage that occurs to selective Type 2 muscle fibers.
- Sarcoplasmic reticulum damage.
- Depletion of muscle glycogen stores.
It’s important to note that by repeating bouts of eccentric activity within an exercise block, one can build up resistance. So with smart programming and recovery, you should theoretically adapt. That said, eccentric training should be programmed appropriately as it can change strength capabilities.
Another important thing to note: light exercise after eccentric work may temporarily provide relief from muscle soreness, but it will be temporary and won’t improve strength. Also, stretching will not have an effect on strength recovery either. You might feel better though. Something to definitely keep in mind when you or your athletes are performing eccentric work.
So there ya have it. Get training friends!