Accentuated Eccentric Training
by Matt Hodges
26 October 2011
The subject of accentuated eccentric training has been a grey area of personal training for a number of years. Trainers should all know the basics but how many people actively use the different techniques with either themselves or their clients?
So let’s start by explaining what ‘Accentuated Eccentric Training’ actually is……
When performing an exercise there are three main areas of ‘concentration’. The ‘concentric’ phase (lifting a resistance against gravity), the isometric phase (holding a resistance without moving the joint angle or changing muscle length) and the eccentric phase (controlling a resistance going with gravity). Using ‘squats’ as a good example, the most important area of the exercise is when you are coming down to the deepest point – this is your eccentric phase. In the same example the concentric phase occurs when you are pushing the weight upwards (more important with powerlifters).
Why focus on the eccentric part of an exercise?
Many professionals believe the eccentric phase to be more beneficial for the body for its proven strength and muscle gain properties. This attitude has been adopted by bodybuilders and strength gurus which is why it is no surprise that the ‘Joe averages’ ignore this type of training. However, Accentuated eccentric training is not only beneficial for these types of people but also for people who need injury rehabilitation, athletes or the average gym goer who would like to see substantial full body gains in their training. See below.
For all you strength monkeys – a study by Hortobagyi emphasised the importance of eccentric training when talking about total maximal strength. The study revealed that by accentuating the eccentric phase you were to get a ‘mean improvement’ of 85% compared to that of concentric only training of 78%.
For all you muscle heads – a similar study was carried out with regard to muscle gain. The study revealed that eccentric only training led to an increase of 6.6% muscle increase over a 12 week period compared to that of 5% from concentric training. Anyone who is serious about muscle gain will know this is a substantial amount more.
How does it all work? The technical bit…..
Most of us don’t really care about how things ‘work’ we just like to know that they do. For a trainer however, it is imperative to recognise the benefits and utilise them within our sessions.
Performing the eccentric phase with a slower tempo has a larger neural effect on the body. Whilst performing the eccentric phase less motor units are recruited, however, these motor units are loaded to a far greater degree than that of concentric actions thus suggesting that maximal eccentric phases can recruit more fast twitch muscle fibres (which are more responsible for the strength and muscle gains). Ever felt the pain days later after a workout? This is the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that is a result of micro trauma to the cells that happen whilst doing the eccentric part of the action. This is a signal to the body to start the reparation and muscle adaptation process.
Further benefits of eccentric training can be used with clients who need injury rehabilitation. An interesting point of research (Hortobagyi, Lambert 1997) is that there is evidence to suggest that greater ‘cross-education’ will occur. This refers to the strength gains from one limb transferring to another. In practical terms:
Client: Injured their right elbow and needs rehabilitation without loading the injured arm.
Method: By performing eccentric actions with the left elbow some of the strength gains will transfer over to the injured right arm.
How much strength exactly will cross over is still unknown, but clearly it could be an effective tool if we are faced with a similar problem. The eccentric phase is also beneficial for the rehabilitation of tendonitis when compared to concentric phases. It is safer but should still be administered carefully. In the next section I will cover some tried and tested training methods that are very effective and could be included into any macro/micro cycles.
These were posted by Christian Thibadeau on www.t-nation.com:
The 2:1 technique
Lifting the weight through its concentric phase with two limbs, and bringing the weight back through the eccentric phase with one limb. The load should be heavy enough to pull through the concentric phase as quick as possible, but heavy enough to get the gains from the eccentric portion.
Example exercises: Seated Rows, Bicep Rope Curls, Dumbbell Deadlifts, Rope Tricep Extensions, and Dumbbell Squats.
Load & Sets: Normally around 60 – 70% of your maximal load, 5 sets, Rep range – depends on what you are training for.
The 2 Movement technique
A little bit more technical: The concentric portion of this lift should be compound (multi-joint) and the eccentric portion should be in isolation. This should only be used for people with a lot of experience.
Example exercises: Dumbbell Press to Chest Flye, Close Grip Bench to Skullcrushers, Dumbbell Shoulder Press to Lateral Raise, Two Legged Squat to One Legged Squat.
Load & Sets: 90 – 110% of your maximal load. Bigger muscle groups will benefit from a 5 set range whilst smaller muscles like the biceps will benefit from even more sets e.g. 7 sets. Rest periods should be one to two minutes in between sets.
Super Slow Eccentrics
Probably the most common technique of them all and used more widely than any other technique explained before. Throughout the eccentric phase the tempo is super slow whilst the concentric phase should be performed explosively. The majority of exercises will benefit from this type of movement.
Load & Sets: The minimal 60% load should have around 12 – 14 seconds eccentric with three reps per set. This sounds very slow but after all you are accentuating the phase. Going heavy at 85% load should have around 4 seconds eccentric with one rep per set. Anywhere from 65% to 80% should now be easy enough to work out the parameters. Ample rest between sets.
This type of training only refers to the eccentric action. Therefore the concentric action should be cheated e.g. if you are doing a chest press, get a spotter to help lift the bar in position then focus on the eccentric control. There should be no concentric lift with this type of technique.
Example exercises: Using a spotter – Barbell Press, Any form of cable movement, Squats on smith machines, Shoulder Presses. Without a spotter: Chin Ups, Inverted Rows.
Load & Sets: 10 secs eccentric when the load is at 115% (easiest), 4 secs eccentric when the load is 130% (hardest). Reps should be kept to a minimum of 1-2 with at least 2 to three minutes rest in between sets.
The argument against. More technical stuff…..
Many power lifters actually believe now that their concentric portion of their lift is hindered by a slow eccentric phase. Within this niche area, power lifters are actively trying to push/pull a weight as fast as they can through the concentric phase. Their attitudes toward quicker eccentrics can actually be explained. Through their lifts, these people need maximal concentric force production which comes in the form of elastic energy stored in the contractile components of the muscle. Therefore when performing a slow eccentric phase it would cause a reduction in this elastic potential energy through dissipation and not allow the power lifter to maximally explode in his or her lifts. Does this affect the ‘Joe average’ gym goer or the personal trainer?
Accentuating the eccentric phase of any exercise has its proven benefits but like any technique it has its time and place. We know now that its qualities can be benefited from by any gym goer as part of their training schedules not just by the typical muscle bound gym junkies. On the rare occasion that as trainers we find ourselves training a power lifter (or if you are a power lifter yourself), it would be interesting to see an experimental stage with this type of training. After all – everyone reacts differently.
So should we be focusing on eccentrics forever? Well to some degree yes, it will allow the muscle to adapt and will undoubtedly make you focus on better form. However, like every period of training, the body will always get used to it and will therefore need change so use this as a short term solution to when your training seems stagnant or your strength is meeting an end.
Have a go and enjoy!
Hortobagyi T., Barrier J., Beard D., Braspennicx J., Koens P., Devita P., Dempsey L., and Lambert J. Greater initial adaptations to submaximal muscle lengthening than maximal shortening. J. Appl. Physiol. 81(4): 1677-1682, 1996
Hortobagyi T., Lambert NJ., Hill JP., Greater cross education following training with muscle lengthening than shortening. Med Sci Sports Exerc 29(1):107-112. 1997
Thibadeau C, Accentuated Eccentric Training: How to apply this method and a bonus “Beastly Arms” program! www.t-nation.com. 08.08.03