Have you ever been reached a strength-training plateau? Strength training plateaus are one of the most frustrating aspects of strength training. Have you ever experienced one? It feels like you are doing everything right with your workouts, nutrition, and rest but you’re still not seeing the progress you expected.
You might wonder what you’re doing wrong and what you need to do to change. You’re using progressive overload, eating enough calories and protein, and managing sleep and stress, but you’re not getting stronger.
Even if you use progressive overload, you’re likely to encounter a plateau in your strength gains after training for longer than 6 months. That’s a sign that you need to “shake things up” and train your muscles differently to spark new gains.
One of the most effective approaches is to use eccentric training or eccentric contractions to spur new strength gains.
What is Eccentric Training?
Eccentric training is sometimes called negative training because it focuses on the “negative” part of a movement, the portion of an exercise where you lower the weight or lengthen a loaded muscle. The primary benefit of eccentric training is muscle damage, specifically in fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are the ones that build strength and explosive power.
For example, when you raise the weight toward your chest with biceps curls, that’s the concentric or positive portion of the movement. When you lower it in a controlled manner (resisting gravity), it’s the eccentric phase of a curl. Even as you lower the weight, the muscle generates tension to resist the force of gravity pulling the muscle down.
Studies show that eccentric training inflicts more damage on muscles, creates more muscle fiber microtears, and leads to greater delayed-onset muscle soreness. (DOMs) Inflicting more damage leads to greater adaptations that trigger gains. That’s why it’s a plateau buster!
If you want more muscle growth, eccentric training gives you an edge too because emphasizing the negative portion of an exercise recruits more satellite cells to the muscle fibers you’re training. Satellite cells fuse with muscle fibers and donate their nuclei to help muscle cells grow. They also help with muscle repair after a workout.
Eccentric exercise is also a popular form of training at rehab centers, as it builds strength without causing re-injury to the muscles or joints being worked. Eccentric exercise has been found to have a positive effect in treating tennis elbow and lateral epicondylitis patients when compared to concentric exercise only.
A New Study Shows How Effective Eccentric Training Can Be
In a study published in Frontiers of Physiology, researchers asked 28 men who were trained in strength training to take part in a 10-week study. The guys were divided into 3 groups. Two groups used standard isointertial training and the other 2 used accentuated eccentric loading with emphasis on the eccentric portion of exercises.
The findings? Both the isointertial and accentuated eccentric groups displayed similar degrees of muscle hypertrophy in their quadriceps muscles, but the accentuated eccentric groups experienced a greater increase in the ability to generate force and work capacity. So, eccentric training can be an effective way to break through a strength plateau.
Another study found that a strength training routine with an eccentric bias led to greater strength gains than concentric exercise by itself but the greatest gains in strength came with a strength training routine that emphasized eccentrics.
How to Do Eccentric Training
One of the easiest ways to do eccentric training is to slow the tempo of the eccentric phase of exercises. If you usually lower the weight (the eccentric portion) in 2 seconds, gradually increase the time to 5 seconds and work up to as long as 7 or 8 seconds so that that you’re generating more tension during the eccentric portion of the exercise.
Another approach is to use two limbs during the concentric phase of a movement and switch to one limb during the eccentric phase. This works well with an exercise like the leg press. Push the weight away from you using two legs (concentric phase) and use one leg to resist the weight as you return to the starting position. (eccentric phase)
There are other ways to implement eccentric training, but you will need a spotter. You can handle more weight during the eccentric phase of an exercise than the concentric phase. Select a weight that allows you to do 8 to 10 repetitions. Once you can’t do another one, ask your spotter to assist you in doing the concentric phase of another repetition, then complete the eccentric portion of that rep without assistance. Try to do 1 or 2 more reps using this set-up. Another name for this approach is forced reps.
Be Judicious with Eccentric Training
One drawback to eccentric training is it’s more demanding on your nervous system, so allow more recovery time between eccentric training sessions. Once a week is often enough to get the plateau-busting benefits without exhausting your nervous system. Expect to feel sorer than usual after an eccentric training session due to the additional muscle fiber tears and microdamage they create.
Also, don’t introduce eccentric training into your strength-training routine until you’ve mastered the basics. It’s important to learn to train with good form first.
The Bottom Line
Focusing on the eccentric can help you break through a strength-training plateau and make new strength gains. It’s a more advanced technique for overloading your muscles, so use good form and don’t overdo it. Use it as your secret strategy to get stronger when your strength gains slow down.
Simon Walker, Anthony J. Blazevich, G. Gregory Haff, James J. Tufano, Robert U. Newton, Keijo Häkkinen. Greater Strength Gains after Training with Accentuated Eccentric than Traditional Isoinertial Loads in Already Strength-Trained Men. Frontiers in Physiology, 2016; 7 DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2016.00149.
Hilliard-Robertson PC, Schneider SM, Bishop SL, Guilliams ME. Strength gains following different combined concentric and eccentric exercise regimens. Aviat Space Environ Med. 2003 Apr;74(4):342-7. PMID: 12688453.
Hyldahl RD, Olson T, Welling T, Groscost L, Parcell AC. Satellite cell activity is differentially affected by contraction mode in human muscle following a work-matched bout of exercise. Front Physiol. 2014 Dec 11;5:485. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2014.00485. PMID: 25566087; PMCID: PMC4263080.
Farthing JP, Chilibeck PD. The effects of eccentric and concentric training at different velocities on muscle hypertrophy. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 Aug;89(6):578-86. doi: 10.1007/s00421-003-0842-2. Epub 2003 May 17. PMID: 12756571.Overcome Strength Training Plateaus with Eccentric Contractions.
Eccentric Resistance Training and Muscle Hypertrophy. January 2012Journal of Sports Medicine & Doping Studies S1(01) DOI:10.4172/2161-0673.S1-004.