The Underutilized Muscle Contraction by Justin Andronico, PT, DPT, CSCS

Spend a week at any gym and you will see hundreds of different exercises, workouts, and program types.  Most of these workouts have very similar concepts sprinkled throughout them; in my opinion a large majority neglect eccentric muscle contractions.

There are three different types of muscle contractions that our body utilizes to function with every task we perform. These three muscle contractions include concentric, eccentric, and isometric contractions.3

  • Concentric- Muscle contraction that occurs as the muscle length is shortening
  • Eccentric- Muscle contraction that occurs while the muscle length is lengthening
  • Isometric- Muscle contraction that occurs while the muscle length remains the same

A good well-balanced exercise routine combines all three types of muscle contractions. Whether it be athletic performance or everyday life, all three of these contractions occur frequently, and that is why it is important to prepare the body.  Proper preparation will allow a decreased risk of injury, both during training and everyday life.

Eccentric muscle contractions are very frequently overlooked or not used properly in resistance training programs. I know that a lot of you are probably thinking, “But Justin, every single rep has an eccentric phase”.  While that statement is totally accurate and true, that is not enough force or time to truly be training eccentrically.

One main benefit of eccentric training is that it allows the muscle to withstand a supramaximal load.  What this means is that you will be able to eccentrically handle more load than you can concentrically lift.  A study by Doan et al. showed increases in 1RM bench press through the use of supramaximal loads during eccentric training. 1

Even if you do not plan on using supramaximal loads, there are benefits to adding eccentric training to your program.  Adding a slow eccentric phase to your normal strengthening exercises have been shown to boost metabolism and increase resting energy expenditure post workout in both trained and untrained individuals.2

Adding eccentric training to your current program could also be an effective way to decrease soreness a couple days post session.  I am sure that at some point we have all been super sore following a rigorous workout. This is because of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  DOMS is commonly associated with the eccentric phase of movement.  However, a study by Petetit et al showed that a second eccentric workout, a week or two following the first, would result in significant amounts of decreased soreness.4  

If you have any questions regarding how to implement eccentric training into your program please do not hesitate to reach out and ask one of our professionals.

You can also follow me on instagram @andronicophysiotherapy to see some great examples of eccentric training.

References:

  1. Doan, B.K., Newton, R.U., Marsit, J.L., Triplett-McBride, N., Koziris, L.P., Fry, A.C., and Kraemer, W.J. (2002). Effects of increased eccentric loading on bench press 1RM. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 16(1), 9-13.
  1. Hackney, K.J., Engels, H.J., and Gretebeck, R.J. (2008). Resting energy expenditure and delayed-onset muscle soreness after full-body resistance training with an eccentric concentration. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 22(5):1602-1609.
  1. Norkin, Cynthia C, and Levangie, Pamela K. Joint Structure and Function. 5th Ed. Philadelphia, PA. F. A. Davis, 2003.
  1. Pettitt, R. W., Symons, D. J., Eisenman, P.A., Taylor, J. E., White, Andrea, T. (2005). Repetitive eccentric strain at long muscle length evokes the repeated bout effect. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(4), 918-924.