It's all about the tempo.
Lifting heavy is a great way to efficiently and effectively strengthen your muscles. But it’s not the only way. Enter eccentric training.
Manipulating the weight you lift by adding more of it is a simple way to continually challenge your muscles, but the tempo of your lifting matters too.
You can get a stellar strength workout by simply tinkering with the speed at which you perform exercises. Yes, really.
By slowing down certain portions of your exercises, you can challenge your muscles to the max and get the most bang-for-your-workout buck.
It’s a concept known as eccentric training, and, spoiler: It also offers a ton of other perks beyond muscle strengthening.
Ahead, everything you need to know about eccentric training, including its awesome benefits and expert tips for adding it to your routine.
What do we mean by eccentric training?
Let’s start with a quick physiology lesson. Muscle fibers perform three different types of actions: concentric, eccentric, and isometric.
A concentric muscle action is a contraction or shortening, which is what’s happening in your glutes when you rise from a squat to standing position.
An isometric action involves your muscles working in a super-still position, like your glutes when you’re hanging out in a wall sit for 30 seconds.
And an eccentric movement is when your muscles lengthen while they are under load, like your glutes do when you’re lowering into a squat, or like your biceps do as you're lowering a dumbbell after a curl.
Fun fact: Every muscle fiber in your body is the strongest as it moves eccentrically. That’s because when muscles work eccentrically, they can produce more force.
With all that in mind, what, exactly, is eccentric training then? Basically, it’s any type of training that emphasizes the eccentric portion of a movement, Ava Fagin, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., instructor at Body Space Fitness, tells SELF.
And there are some serious benefits to incorporating this type of training into your routine.
What are the benefits of eccentric training?
For starters, research shows that eccentric training can more effectively improve strength, power, and speed performance compared to traditional resistance training.
That means eccentric training is a great choice if you’re looking to really maximize your time at the gym and improve your athletic abilities in a superefficient way.
Eccentric training can also boost flexibility. In one North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy study of 75 athletes with tight hamstrings, those who performed eccentric hamstring exercises improved their flexibility twice as well as those who stuck with static (bend-and-hold) stretching.
And a research review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine confirmed that eccentric training is an effective way to increase flexibility (although it noted that more research is needed to determine how eccentric strength training compares to static stretching or other types of exercise).
To boot, eccentric exercises strengthen your body’s connective tissues, helping to both rehab any aches and pains as well as reduce injury risk, per one comprehensive review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.
The review notes that eccentric exercises are vital in sports- rehab settings and are great even for people sidelined with exercise injuries.
How to add eccentric training into your routine
Ready to give eccentric training a shot? Here’s Fagin’s advice for safely and effectively adding it to your workout routine.
1. Slow your tempo.
Changing up the speed at which you perform movements is an easy way to add eccentric training into exercises that are already in your workout, says Fagin.
And it’s really as simple as just spending more time in the lengthening part of the movement. A great place to start, Fagin says, is prolonging the lengthening part of a move to three to five seconds.
She gives the example of a squat—to train that exercise eccentrically, you’d slowly sink down into a squat over the course of three to five seconds.
Then, once you’re in a full-on squat, you’d stand back up at a regular pace (about a one-second count) and repeat.
You can, of course, prolong the eccentric phase of a movement to be greater than five seconds; it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, and you will recruit more muscle fibers and thus likely build more muscle the longer you stay in the eccentric phase, says Fagin.
But, she caveats, from a practical standpoint you probably don’t want to hold the eccentric portion of a move for too long (like, 10 seconds or more).
That’s simply because it would take up a large chunk of your workout, and you might not have that much time to devote to one exercise.
2. Start simple.
While you can do eccentric training with pretty much any exercise, Fagin recommends starting with three simple moves if you want to add some in purposefully: the push-up, the squat, and the overhead press.
You might already know how to do these exercises, and turning them into eccentric-focused moves just requires making a few small tweaks.
To do an eccentric push-up, start in a high plank and then slowly bend your elbows to lower yourself down over the course of three to five seconds.
Once you’re at the bottom of the movement, let yourself gently fall to the ground. Then get back into the high plank position (you can drop to your knees to do so) and repeat.
The cool thing about an eccentric push-up is that it’s actually less advanced than a regular push-up, and you can do it as a way to build up the strength you need to nail a regular push-up, says Fagin.
To do an eccentric overhead press, stand with your feet hip-width apart and dumbbells or kettlebells at your shoulders.
Lift your weights overhead at a regular pace and then slowly lower them down over the course of three to five seconds before repeating.
3. Drop some weight.
If you’re performing eccentric exercises with weight, you’ll probably need to use lighter weights than you would if you were doing the move at a regular tempo.
That’s because the slow pace of eccentric training puts your muscles under tension for a longer amount of time, and as a result they might not be able to handle the same amount of weight they typically can.
As a rule of thumb, Fagin recommends dropping your weight about 5 to 10 pounds for eccentric training. Say, for example, you normally squat with a 20-pound kettlebell.
For an eccentric squat, you’d want to use a 15- or even 10-pound kettlebell.
As you experiment to find the right weight for you, make sure your technique stays solid. “Never let your form be sacrificed by the weight,” says Fagin.
So if you swap your 15-pound dumbbells for five pounders and the move still feels too challenging, go even lighter. Or perform the move with just your bodyweight. Remember, form always comes first.
4. Prioritize recovery.
Important fact about eccentric training: It can increase delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—that soreness you feel up to 72 hours after a tough workout—in a big way.
That's because in eccentric actions, the weight placed on the muscles is greater than the amount of force produced by the muscles. This imbalance creates more microscopic damage to the muscle compared to concentric training.
So if you do eccentric training, it’s especially important to prioritize recovery afterward so that your muscles can have the downtime and support they need to build back stronger.
For Fagin, that recovery includes hydrating, foam rolling, eating protein (which helps with muscle repair and growth), and sleeping.
Fagin also recommends waiting 48 to 72 hours before you train the same muscles eccentrically again; that ensures your muscles have enough time to recover.
5. Incorporate it in moderation.
Yes, there are a ton of benefits to eccentric training. But it’s also a more physiologically exhausting form of exercise, and not something that most of us should do all workout, every workout.
The “right” amount of eccentric training varies from person to person and depends, in part, on your goals and how many days a week you typically strength train.
In general, though, Fagin says doing eccentric training one to two days a week could be a good addition to your routine. Oh, and when you pencil in eccentric training, make sure it doesn’t take over your entire workout.
Again, “your body can only take so much of that eccentric work,” explains Fagin, who recommends doing eccentric moves for a portion of your workout—for example, as your main set—before moving onto other types of training and activities.
This article originally appeared on Self US| Author:K. Aleisha Fetters, M.S., C.S.C.S. and Jenny McCoy