Your muscles have two phases of movement; the Concentric Contraction is when the muscle shortens and the Eccentric Contraction is when the muscle maintains contraction while being lengthened. Both play an important role in strength training however the latter often gets overlooked on most movements but can be the most beneficial to your strength gains!
Think of the Eccentric phase of a movement like putting on the brakes or resisting gravity. It is typically the lowering-portion of a lift or exercise. Interestingly, your body is strongest in the Eccentric phase which is important for the safety of your body structures! If something is too heavy for your body to manage and you try to lift it, it just won’t come up off the floor. But if you are able to get something into your hands (think, something REALLY heavy off of a counter), you need to be able to control lowering it safely to the floor without damaging your muscles, bones or joints!
In many exercises, focusing on training the Eccentric phase of the movement can help you make gains in the Concentric phase (which will ultimately make your lift stronger!).
Let’s figure out which movements can benefit from specifically training the Eccentric phase…
The Concentric phase of this movement is lifting the bar off the floor. Your muscles contract to press and lift the bar up to your hips. At this point, you are allowed to drop the bar from your hips in a CrossFit class. However, when doing a Deadlift with the intent and purpose of increasing strength, you’ll want to include the Eccentric phase too!
The Eccentric phase of this movement is lowering the bar in a controlled manner from your hips back down to the floor. The slower you move, the most taxing the movement will be to your working muscles.
It’s important, on the Deadlift especially, that proper form and core bracing is maintained on the Eccentric phase too!
Controlling the Eccentric portion of this movement helps to build even more strength in your hamstrings, glutes, back and core while also drilling proper mechanics and form even more!
The Concentric phase of the Pull-Up is going from the dead-hang position to pulling your chin over the bar. Therefore, the Eccentric phase is lower from the top position back to the dead-hang.
This Eccentric movement can be especially helpful in strengthening your upper body to achieve your first strict pull-up! Since you could step off of a box or jump into the starting position of chin-over the bar, you can specifically train this Eccentric portion to begin your pull-up journey! Strengthening the lowering portion with your full bodyweight helps your build strength and stability in your arms, shoulders and back through the full range-of-motion!
Since our Eccentric contractions are strongest, after some time of practicing body-weight Eccentric Pull-Ups (also sometimes called Negatives), you could add weight to the movement to “progressively overload” the exercise (which is the only way to make continued progress!).
The Concentric phase of the Push-Up is when you press your body from laying flat on the floor into the plank position. The Eccentric phase then, is lowering from the plank position back to laying flat on the floor.
Just like the Pull-Up, training this phase can help you accomplish stronger, more strict Push-Ups because it uses the same body-weight and range-of-motion as you would use on the way up. Also similarly, you could place a weight-plate on your back to increase the resistance and build even more strength!
Especially on a Push-Up, practicing the Eccentric portion helps build the core strength and the movement pattern you’ll use to eventually press yourself back up in a perfect Push-Up!
These are just a few movements where the Eccentric Contraction phase is often overlooked, therefore making you miss out on valuable movement and strength gains! Start focusing on the Negative portion of these movements and focus on any other movements where you could be more controlled and deliberate in the Eccentric phase too!
A quick safety message: Be sure you start with accumulating many strong, safe reps with just your body-weight before adding more weight to any of these movements. The Eccentric contraction is beneficial for strength building because it increases the amount of tiny-tears within your muscle – which are normal and necessary to build more and stronger muscle fibers. However, too much muscle tearing too soon, or without full recovery afterwards, can result in injury, rhabdomyolysis or severe muscle soreness!