Eccentric training might sound like some sort of newfangled exercise fad, but it's actually something you're likely already doing—at least in part. That's because eccentric movement is simply the lengthening phase of an exercise, such as the descent on your biceps curl. Training eccentrically, though, is a technique that focuses more on this phase, which is thought to come with specific benefits.
To find out about the benefits of eccentric training and how to incorporate it into your routine, we asked sports injury specialist and doctor of chiropractic Johnny Alexander and physical therapist Marcin Szczyglowski for their expert knowledge.
Meet the Expert
- Johnny Alexander is the founder of Warrior NYC, a sports injury specialist, and doctor of chiropractic.
- Marcin Szczyglowski is a physical therapist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
What Is Eccentric Training?
Eccentric training is focused on the elongating, lengthening phase of a movement in an exercise where tension is acting on the muscle using resistance, such as a dumbbell. This is the opposite of the concentric phase, which is the shortening or contraction of the muscle.
"Most traditional bodybuilding focuses on concentric contractions, aka the shortening of muscle fibers as you squeeze out those reps. However, there are many benefits to also incorporating eccentric exercises in which the muscle fibers are instead lengthening during the loading phase," says Alexander.
Challenging your muscles further while they are at their strongest during eccentric movement can lead to better results. Research shows that focusing on the eccentric portion of a movement can lead to greater increases in strength and power.
These effects are due to the increased force generated by the muscles. "Muscles actually produce more force while working eccentricity versus concentric, and there is better fiber recruitment. This leads to a more effective workout," explains Alexander.
This additional muscle fiber recruitment has practical benefits that go beyond the gym, explains Szczyglowski: "Think of slowing down from a sprint, the landing from a vertical jump, lowering the bar to your chest when bench pressing, or even sitting down to a chair. Training this quality can be very beneficial to having better control over these types of movements where you are trying to slow down or control a force. This is important in sports but can also be beneficial in everyday contexts."
Who Should Try Eccentric Training?
Eccentric training is safe and effective for anyone without joint pain to add to their training routine—provided they follow proper technique and don't push themselves past a reasonable limit. Always listen to your body and stop before failure or if you feel pain.
Szczyglowski suggests that beginners stick to practicing basic movement patterns before experimenting with techniques like eccentric training. "That being said, most movements have an eccentric and concentric component to them already. If you feel particularly comfortable with an exercise, emphasizing the eccentric can be a great option," adds Szczyglowski.
You can also add eccentric training to spice up your lifting regimen, whether you're after increased strength gains or not. "Anyone looking to add some flexibility to their boring strength-training routine should try eccentric exercises," suggests Alexander.
How to Add Eccentric Training to Your Routine
Adding eccentric training to your routine can be done in several ways. It's always a good idea to switch up your training methods every few weeks to keep your routine fresh and your body adapting. Be sure, no matter how you perform your training, that you first warm up with some dynamic movements and stay hydrated throughout.
- Add specific exercises: "A great example of an eccentric exercise is the straight-leg or Romanian deadlift. As the weight is slowly lowered from waist height toward the floor, the hamstrings must slowly lengthen under tension," says Alexander.
- Start slow: "Whenever you are trying a new routine, it’s important to ease into it. Start with movements you feel comfortable with and a smaller volume of exercise than you’d typically load. It’s typically better to need to add more reps or resistance on a second workout than to overdo it on a single workout," advises Szczyglowski.
- Emphasize control: "Beginning with lower weights and slower speeds, then progressing to heavier or faster, is usually a good place to start," says Szczyglowski. "If you can’t slow and control the movement, working with lighter resistance and trying isometric holds may help you develop the control you need to get into an eccentric program. Individuals can benefit from using a weight machine, where the devices have a built-in fail-safe to catch the weight."
- Burnout sets: "One of the oldest tricks of hypertrophy training (muscle growth) is time-under-tension, meaning that slow and controlled repetitions are necessary to grow big, powerful muscles. Consider adding in some eccentric work toward the end of your workout for a brutal burnout," recommends Alexander.
- Partner-assisted exercises: "Using a partner can be a fun way to add eccentric training to your routine. Grab a buddy and load up a lift with 75%–80% of your one-rep max weight. Let your partner help you bring the weight into a full shortened contraction, then use your strength to lengthen the muscle as slowly as possible. This requires time under tension, core control, and postural awareness," suggests Alexander.
- Recovery adequately: "Frequency is going to vary based on the individual. If you are new to eccentrics, plan on giving yourself time between bouts of exercise for recovery. The body needs time to get accustomed after exercising," says Szczyglowski.
Be aware that eccentric training can cause greater than usual post-exercise muscle soreness. You may wish to use a lighter weight than you do with regular repetitions. In fact, you most likely will be forced to lower the weight in order to keep it from dropping as you lengthen your muscles more slowly.
Keeping complete awareness of your form and breathing is essential. Never sacrifice form and back off if you feel any strange twinges or pain.
Eccentric training can add variety to your workout routine and possibly help you progress by recruiting additional muscle fibers and strengthening areas that need an extra boost to break through a strength plateau. Like all resistance training, you can build a healthier, more functional body that is less prone to injury by being consistent and continuing to challenge yourself. Remember that form is still the most important aspect, and taking time for recovery is essential.
Vogt M, Hoppeler HH. Eccentric Exercise: Mechanisms and Effects When Used as Training Regime or Training Adjunct. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2014;116(11):1446-1454. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00146.2013