One of the goals of weight training is to build lean body mass, yet to make those muscles show you have to lean down. That’s why if you’re overweight, you need to lose body fat to look defined. Resistance training can help you do that, especially when you do compound exercises, work large muscle groups, and keep the rest periods between each set short. Another variable that can impact the results you get from weight training is rep tempo, the speed with which you do each repetition.
You may have heard of super-slow training where you reduce the tempo of your reps. The reason this is beneficial is it keeps the muscles you’re working under tension longer. Doing this helps to maximize muscle hypertrophy and strength gains. However, if you do it properly, according to research, it can also give your metabolism a boost.
The Two Components of a Muscle Contraction
Before looking at rep tempo, let’s look at the two components of a muscle contraction – concentric and eccentric. The concentric portion of a rep is the “positive” part of the movement, the segment where you’re actively contracting the muscle. For example, when you do a bicep curl, the concentric part is where you’re moving the weights upward towards your shoulders. The eccentric portion is where you’re lengthening the muscle, the so-called “negative” phase of the contraction. By changing how much time you spend in each phase of the movement, you alter the rep tempo.
You might think you would get the most benefits when you’re actively contracting the muscle, during the concentric phase, but research shows you actually experience more muscle damage when you emphasize the eccentric or negative phase of a contraction. That’s important since muscle damage leads to greater muscle growth. On the downside, it also causes more DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness). How do you know emphasizing the eccentric boosts muscle growth? Because it ramps up muscle protein synthesis more.
The Metabolic Benefits of Eccentric Exercise Training
Yet there’s another benefit to focusing on the eccentric portion of a rep, it gives your metabolism a boost! A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise showed participants who did leg presses with an emphasis on the eccentric portion of the rep experienced a bump up in metabolism that lasted for up to 48 hours after the workout. In much the same way your body has to work harder to repair itself after a high-intensity interval workout, emphasizing the eccentric creates more muscle damage that requires more resources to repair. Therefore, your body has to work harder and expend more energy. In another study, participants who did a full-body workout emphasizing the eccentric experienced a 9% increase in their resting metabolism. Not bad!
Other Benefits of Emphasizing Eccentric Exercise
Eccentric contractions lead to greater muscle growth, partially because they do more muscle damage, and when you’re controlling the eccentric, you use less momentum. Focusing more on the eccentric can also lead to greater gains in strength and power. This is particularly important as you age since you lose fast-twitch muscle fibers, ones involved in strength and power, to a greater degree than slow-twitch fibers, those optimized for endurance. Eccentric movements really hammer the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Because there’s less disengagement of actin and myosin during an eccentric contraction, you can also handle more weight.
Just as interesting is the fact that eccentric contractions potentially lead to greater gains in strength and size with a lower energy cost. According to a study discussed on IDEA Health and Fitness, eccentric contractions are 4 to 5 times less energy intensive than the concentric portion of the contraction, despite the fact that they do more muscle damage.
Did you know eccentric training also increases flexibility? If you’re over the age of 40 and are gradually becoming less flexible, you know how important it is to maintain and improve upon the flexibility you have. Doing so can also help your performance when you lift.
Don’t forget, changing the tempo by emphasizing the eccentric is also a good way to add variety to your weight training routine. Changing things up by focusing more on the eccentric portion of the rep helps you avoid plateaus.
One problem with eccentric exercise is it leads to greater post-workout soreness, although that’s only when you first start doing it. Due to the repeated bout effect, your muscles adapt and soreness becomes less of an issue What’s interesting is people over the of 60 actually experience less delayed-onset muscle soreness after an eccentric workout relative to younger men and women. There’s also some evidence that workouts that focus on the eccentric are less fatiguing.
How to Emphasize the Eccentric
As you can see, there are some definite advantages to eccentric exercise, including greater hypertrophy and strength gains as well as a more pronounced metabolic after-burn. So, how can you get these benefits?
When you do a set, do the concentric portion of the rep quickly, devoting about one second to this phase. Then slow down during the eccentric phase, so you’re completing the downward phase in around 3 seconds. Over time, gradually increase the amount of time you devote to the eccentric phase to 5 or 6 seconds. Don’t do this every time you work out, but intersperse eccentric training with regular weight training to enjoy the benefits each type of training offers.
The Bottom Line
Eccentric training can not only help you get stronger and more powerful but it gives a metabolic boost that can last for up to 48 hours after a workout. Are you using this training method in your own workouts? If not, give it a try, but prepare to be sore, and reassure yourself that with muscle damage comes greater gains.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000 Jul;32(7):1202-7.
Poliquin Group. “Ten Things You Must Know about Eccentric Training to Get Better Results”
Eccentric Exercise: A Comprehensive Review of a Distinctive Training Method. Aaron Bubbico, B.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
IDEA Fitness Journal. Vol. 7, No. 10.
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