Eccentric training: develop bigger muscles faster


Building muscle is a challenge, taking time and dedication, but if this is your goal, then eccentric training can help accelerate progress. The technique (also known as negative training) can enable muscles to be pushed past their normal point of failure, with 30 to 40 percent more weight being lifted eccentrically than might be handled concentrically in a full-on programme. This can speed up results, but full-on programmes must only be considered if carried out with a training buddy, with meticulous attention to technique and with proper controls in place.

The concentric/eccentric story

There is a famous poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger with the words:

“When people said, ‘We never want to look like you’ Arnold replied, ‘Don’t worry, you never will.’”

Building muscle is tough, so it’s no surprise people who are dedicated to doing so will look for ways to accelerate the process. Eccentric training is an obvious way to do so. The technique can be explained simply. When performing a push movement, such as the bench press, the focus is pushing the weight up from their chest – from B-to-A. If instead the task becomes focused on the whole movement, from A-to-B-to-A, a new level of intensity is introduced that can accelerate muscle development.

Concentric/eccentric explained

When carrying out an exercise that involves pushing a weight up, the concentric ‘push’ movement is the normal focus. Start to control the weight on the way down, the eccentric movement, managing the lowering of the bar down onto your body, rather than just letting it ‘freefall’ before arresting its progress, and you start to get an idea of how this system can really increase your gym productivity.

When preparing for any movement, be it push, pull or squat, the norm is to focus on the lift: the concentric contraction, where the muscles are being shortened. The loading part of the movement, or the ‘drop’ in most instances, is known as the eccentric contraction, where the muscles are lengthening. But a full range of movement is vitally important for every exercise, so it should be obvious that by understanding the eccentric contraction you will be able to reap bigger benefits, while even a moment’s reflection should confirm that the eccentric part of the lift should not be ignored.

However – if you are not able to properly control that part of the lift, how beneficial will the lift on the concentric contraction really prove to be? Increased risk of injury is the most likely result, with the contortion of the spine employed to make up for correct technique in most cases and momentum and inertia employed rather than just muscle to move the weight from point A to B.

Form and technique over weight

Adopting eccentric techniques can also assist in learning how to better control loads on both the eccentric and concentric contractions of a movement. However, this is also why in the first instance it is recommended to reduce weight on the bar, allowing you to experiment more safely. Mastering the technique will meant that longer term this will not only reduce the risk of injury, but it will also place further stress on the muscle, vital for positive results. Or to put it another way, correctly carried out the process will accelerate muscle ‘shredding’ or ‘breakdown’, causing faster muscle adaption and repair, enabling it to become stronger.

Taking it to the next level: a full-on eccentric training programme

As your technique develops, a full-on programme may tempt you, but this will require at least one training partner. Depending on the weights employed a trio may be even better. The spotters enable the maximum exploitation of the eccentric training technique, because as the greatest strength is at the point of the eccentric part of a lift, this is where the maximum load can be placed on the muscles. This makes training partners essential if you don’t want to end up trapped under a heavily laden bar that you lack the strength to raise back up onto the rack by yourself.

Never embark or attempt a full-on eccentric training programme alone

Remarkable increases in strength and the size of muscles can be achieved through a full-on eccentric training programme, but this should only be attempted with experienced training partners. However, lowering weight to experiment and adopt the techniques can still make building muscle faster and more efficient. You may think lifting lighter to accelerate muscle development is crazy – but eccentric contraction is far from eccentric!

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Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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