Physiotherapists Kerry – Overview of Eccentric Weight Training
When I was younger I used to concentrate on how much weight I could lift. I reached some decent levels with a 300kg squat, 180kg bench press and 320kg deadlift at a pretty young age. As I have grown older(and wiser), my goals have changed and I am more concerned with health, longevity, minimizing injury risk, holding a decent level of strength and muscle mass while keeping in shape. I have as a result totally changed my training. I still go close to failure but at a much higher rep range, no singles. I train less, warm up more and make sure to incorporate stretching and mobilization exercises , especially for my spine.
The biggest change I have made to my training in an attempt to keep the intensity but lower the risk of injury, is that I do exercises much slower, especially the eccentric part. This is where you lower the weight in free weights movements or on a pulley type machine where you release the weight. It is generally the easier part of the movement. The eccentric phase of a lift occurs when a muscle contracts while lengthening. This is the down motion of the bench press, biceps curl, or squat. The concentric phase of a lift occurs when a muscle contracts and shortens, as in the up motion of the bench press, biceps curl, or squat. Just to explain things even simpler. Concentric is where you are lifting the weight. For example say on a bench press concentric is where you are pushing up a weight off your chest, eccentric is where you are lowering the weight to your chest. It is a great pity I didn’t discover the benefits of eccentric weight training when I was younger, because it is such an effective, underutilised method of building muscle and strength.
What I want you to think about first is why would you cheat on an exercise in the gym, concentric or eccentric….why swing or bounce through a range of motion where the muscle does not engage…Isn’t the idea of training to stimulate the muscle. Do you really think doing a quarter rep with the leg press loaded up is working all your muscles. The only thing it is working is your ego. The idea is to build balance in your physique and this can only be done with full movements. Say you do a quarter squat, you are mainly just working vasti muscles (lower quad) to the detriment of hamstrings, glutes and upper quads etc. which all get worked in the full squat.
Below is a set of upper body exercises that will work almost the entire upper body in a single session. I have keep the list to a minimum because this workout is meant to be minimalist while working the muscles maximally. If you do too many exercises, you will spoil the intensity and slow recovery. I want you to concentrate more on the muscles you are working in each exercise than the amount of weight lifted. The weight does not matter. If you want to make the exercise harder, do it slower. After warming up for each exercise I want you to take a weight, about 70 % of what you can do comfortably for ten reps. I want you to slow everything down especially the eccentric part(lowering part) of the exercise. I want you to perform the eccentric part of each exercise at least three times as slow as the concentric part. Movements in both directions should be slow, controlled and deliberate focusing and isolating the muscles you are working. Do each exercise for one set of as many slow reps as you can. If you have done things properly the muscles you are working should be pumped to the max. You will also begin to understand the effectiveness of this type of training.
Each exercise below is done after warmup and all exercises are done to failure (probably 15 to 20 reps). I keep the rep range higher because it is easier to maintain strict control during each rep as you tire.
- Flat bench press with a 2 second pause on the chest at each rep.
- Straight barbell curls(no swinging at any stage).
- Flat dumbell bench press – go deep.
- Barbell rows (low and slow – pull to below belly button/ touch lower stomach with bar and let the bar down fully – remember you are trying to work your lats and back, not the biceps as such).
- Incline dumbell bench press – again go deep.
- Wide lat pulldown to front – stay up as straight as you can and flare out lats keeping elbows and shoulders back.
- Press behind neck (right down to base of neck) – use a smith machine if you have no spotter.
- Narrow grip lat pulldown to front – as above letting the lats stretch out fully on top
- Straight arm dumbell pullovers lying sideways across a bench..get a good deep stretch. Keep hips low. Remember our priority here is to stretch that ribcage for a big chest.
- Reverse dumbell flies. Lie face down on a 30 % incline bench. These hit the rear deltoid as well as the middle and lower traps, rhomboids etc.
There should be a maximum of 2 minutes rest between each set. This entire program should be done in about 30 minutes. If you have done it properly, every muscle in your upper body should be pumped to the max. This program is more for a novice to intermediate trainer. More seasoned trainers could add a few extra exercises. I cannot over-emphasize that you must slow down and control the weight movement especially during the eccentric phase of each exercise, and focus on working the muscles to the maximum. This is paramount to the success of this program. The strength will always be there and most likely you will have more when you return to looser form.
Bottom line: Eccentric exercise puts muscles under tension for longer, stimulating more muscle growth.