By abruptly lowering the weights, you are wasting training potential. How to improve strength and performance with eccentric training

What is eccentric training?

You do eccentric training with every exercise. There are two main phases of muscle contraction in any weight or resistance workout: concentric and eccentric. The latter describes the conscious lowering of a weight while you are lifting or pushing a weight in the concentric phase. The focus in eccentric training is therefore on slow, controlled lowering of a weight or resistance. This is also known as negative repetition.

The stretched muscle is still under high tension, which stimulates growth. In the concentric phase, on the other hand, the muscles contract. With eccentric training, however, you mostly do without weightlifting (the concentric phase), explains Dr. Stephan Geisler, professor of fitness and health management at the IST University in Düsseldorf and lecturer in Olympic weightlifting at the German Sport University in Cologne.

These are the advantages of eccentric training

1.  Eccentric training increases your strength

With negative repetitions, you are able to develop far more strength than with the concentric phase. “This is ensured by ‘the braking forces’, which are also responsible for the high tension in the muscle fibers,” explains the fitness expert. In the eccentric phase, you can theoretically manage up to 175% of your normal weight, but you should train with 120 to 130%. In this way you increase your strength level to a whole new level.

2.  Negative repetitions promote muscle growth

“Eccentric contractions can also help build muscle, since this is where the small micro-damage in the muscle occurs, which can lead to greater growth stimulus,” says Geisler. Ideal for athletes whose goal is hypertrophy or muscle building. 

3.  Eccentric training uses  less energy

While eccentric training can generate more force, it uses less energy compared to lifting the weight. “This is why people with high blood pressure or cardiovascular diseases will probably also benefit,” said Geisler. Because negative repetitions don’t make your blood pressure soar.

4. Eccentric training strengthens the tendons

The connective tissue (such as the tendons) is also trained by the negative repetitions, which in turn can improve athletic performance. “This is why negative repetitions are also beneficial for athletes with all kinds of tendon attachment problems,” advises Geisler.

5.  Negative reps help with Jumper’s knee

In the so-called patellar tip syndrome – also called jumper’s knee (a pathological change in the quadriceps tendon) – eccentric training can be used as a treatment method. Dr. Stephan Geisler tested the effect of eccentric one-legged squats as part of a study by the IST University in Düsseldorf on handball players with patellar tip syndrome. The result: “After 6 weeks, the patients no longer had any problems,” says the expert.

How does eccentric training work?

Lowering the weight in a controlled and slow manner doesn’t sound very spectacular. The catch: “For most of the eccentric exercises you need a training partner or special training equipment,” says Geisler. By working with heavier weights, for example, when doing the bench press, it is not possible to lift the weight without the help of a training partner. On the other hand, you can perform bicep curls with the help of your other hand.

Who is eccentric training for?

Advanced:  Increase your strength level? Promote muscle growth? The advantages of eccentric training are a useful addition to their training plan for experienced gym-goers: “The eccentric tension forces can be used very well by advanced learners to increase performance,” says Geisler. Incidentally, not only strength athletes benefit: runners can use it to strengthen their thighs and at the same time reduce their susceptibility to injury.

Beginners should never start immediately with much higher loads, especially if you have not had any experience with eccentric training. “Basically, you should only do exercises that you are familiar with and that your training partner can use to help you lift the weights,” says the expert. If in doubt, beginners should first get used to the concentric movements. Beginners can also get started with simpler exercises such as biceps curls: It’s best to feel slowly and perform the movements at the beginning with 80% of your normal weight. Do you feel safe in the processes? Then increase the weight to the level of your standard load during the next training session. If that goes well, you can slowly increase the load to 110,

You should watch out for these dangers:

To avoid painful mishaps, you should choose your training partner carefully: He should be experienced and attentive. After all, on negative reps, you’re dealing with a weight that you couldn’t push up on your own. Every slip can end badly.

Do you have sore muscles? Then you should avoid eccentric training for the time being. Geisler warns: “The injuries in the muscles could then add up – the risk of real injuries is higher”. Due to the micro-destruction in the muscle fibers, eccentric training is a guarantee for severe muscle soreness. Training is therefore taboo even with other types of muscle damage.

How do I meaningfully integrate negative repetitions into my training?

Start by placing more emphasis on the eccentric phase in your typical workout. “Some people drop the weights immediately after pushing or lifting them – this wastes a lot of potential,” explains Geisler. Do you feel caught out? High time to lower your weight or resistance in a controlled manner.

Another variation: add some negative reps at the end of the last set of an exercise. In this way you will get used to the movement sequences even better and you can immediately include the eccentric workout in your training plan.

If you want to increase your strength or build muscle, an entire eccentric workout is also recommended. You should adjust the frequency and intensity to your goals. “When building muscle, for example, 8-12 repetitions of 3-8 sets are recommended. As severe muscle soreness is to be expected, you should exercise eccentrically a maximum of 1 to 2 times a week,” advises Geisler. If that’s too much for you, 1 to 2 units per month will be enough.

The best exercises for eccentric training

Basically, you can do your typical gym exercises eccentrically – even if mostly only with a training partner. We’ll tell you how to do negative repetitions correctly in various exercises

  • Bicep Curls: An ideal exercise for eccentric training when you don’t have a training partner. For example, if you take the dumbbell in your left hand, you can use your right hand to help curl. But you only need your left arm to lower it.
  • Pull-ups: You can only do a few or no pull-ups? Then eccentric training can help you: “Pull-ups can even be learned through eccentric training,” says Geisler. “Jump on the bar and then let yourself down slowly and in a controlled manner.” This will give you an excellent approach to the exercise.
  • Leg extension:  “When doing the leg extension, you first push the weights up with both legs. Then, after extending, you drop one of the legs and slowly guide the other back,” says Geisler.

Conclusion: Eccentric training makes a good addition to your workout

With eccentric training you can finally tap your performance potential. Both beginners and advanced users can integrate this form of training into their workout – however, beginners usually need a sufficiently long period of getting used to it. The only condition: a training partner is necessary for most of the exercises.

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