If you clicked on this article thinking eccentric training involved something unconventional, like painting fences or waxing cars, I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place.
Your muscles move in several different ways: eccentrically, concentrically, and isometrically.
- Eccentric training refers to when the muscle lengthens, like when you’re lowering down into the squat.
- Concentric training refers to when the muscle contracts, like when you’re straightening up for your squat. That translates into fast, powerful moves that make up a lot of HIIT workouts.
- Isometric training refers to a hold, like holding a low squat. It’s about increasing flexibility and balance while strengthening the muscle (and let’s be real, there’s a mental element too).
Most workouts incorporate all three, but eccentric training often gets neglected. “There are two phases to every lift: concentric and eccentric,” says NASM and AFPA-certified trainer Autumn Calabrese. “People typically focus on the concentric phase, which involves contracting or shortening the muscle. Eccentric training means that you are focusing on the part of the lift that involves lengthening the muscle. In other words, the emphasis is on lowering the weight.”
“A lot of people don’t have eccentric strength,” adds physical therapist and yoga instructor Lara Heimann. “If you’ve ever been really sore after hiking, it wasn’t going up that made you sore, it was going down.”
The Benefits of Eccentric Training
If your goal is to build muscle, eccentric training is a good place to start, even if you’ve got experience working out. “Research shows that eccentric training can be more effective for building size and strength due to the greater demand that it places on muscles,” says Calabrese.
It’s also effective to learn proper form. As you slow down, you can really feel how your muscles work and make sure you’re approaching them ergonomically. “It's just really beneficial for learning how to control the body and space,” says Heimann. “Anytime you train in different ways, the more prepared you are to not only optimize performance but to prevent injury.”
It translates into more functional movement, whether that’s walking, yoga, or sports in a way concentric doesn’t. That’s why PTs like Heimann often use eccentric training as part of a rehab plan for injuries. “If somebody is weak or recovering, eccentric moves put less force on a tendon,” she says. “It’s really important to build strength around where the muscle and tendon connects, and that’s exactly what eccentric training does.”
7 Eccentric Exercises to Add to Your Workout
The good news about incorporating eccentric exercises is you’re probably already doing most of these, just faster. “Almost any exercise can be used for eccentric training, as the key is simply to emphasize the lowering phase of the lift,” says Calabrese.
Keep in mind, though, that you may find yourself more sore than usual with exercises like these. “As with any form of weightlifting, if eccentric training isn’t performed properly, there is a risk of injury,” says Calabrese. “If you’re new to it or if you push yourself too hard, you might also experience DOMS, which stands for delayed onset muscle soreness. It usually sets in 12 to 24 hours after a tough workout, and can last for two to three days.”
Slow down as you lift, thinking about the push and pull of your muscles—and don’t be afraid to try these exercises:
If you do yoga regularly, you already do reverse push-ups in every yoga flow as you transition from high plank to low plank. “I teach this a lot in yoga,” says Heimann. “People think that push-ups are all about shoulders and deltoids, but it’s just as much eccentric tricep strengthening because they have to decelerate that action.”
Pull-ups can seem intimidating, but if you want to build up to it, set yourself up at the bar while standing on a box. Jump up into a pull-up position and then slowly lower your body back down to the box and repeat.
Reverse Lunges or Split Squats
Rather than step forward into a lunge, step backward and lower yourself slowly into a split squat position before coming back up.
This takes some balance. Standing on one leg, hinge at your hips and lower your hands to the ground, holding a weight in the opposite hand to your standing leg. “That’s pulling on the hamstring in a lengthened way and it has to control, which is great for the whole posterior chain,” says Heimann.
One-Legged Hop and Hold
Take a one-legged hop in a diagonal line forward and land as softly as you can, absorbing the impact before leaping onto the next leg. “You need the coiling to be able to spring,” says Heimann. “I love one-legged hops because they need explosive power, but also need to land and absorb that power in a controlled way.”
Instead of traditional calf raises, try this on a set of stairs. “Slowly lower the heels so the calf is stretched instead of shortening. This better prepares all that soft tissue for performance,” says Heimann.
Squat and Pulse
Incorporating eccentric movements into the basics can go a long way. Next time you’re set up to squat, focus on lowering down as slowly as possible, pulse up and down about an inch to two inches three times, and then explode back up to standing or a jump.