Should you encourage your clients to be eccentric?
For many years, it appeared that resistance training with a focus on eccentric muscular contractions could only be found hidden away in the dark corners of hardcore bodybuilding gyms. While some great examples can now be found in elite sports conditioning and specific injury rehab programs, it is rarely observed in the mainstream gym domain. This is somewhat perplexing when you consider the first landmark study on the subject was published as far back as 1924, when Fenn discovered that eccentric contractions generate force with a significantly lower energy demand.
One reason may be, as Heath Williams noted in his excellent article on this topic here on PTontheNet, ‘Currently, there are very few weight machines accessible to the general public for this type of training, we are still reliant upon a training partner.’
A one-to-one session, therefore, provides an opportunity to expose your client to this training mode, which wouldn’t be advisable during his/her supplementary solo workouts. By definition, then, differing the format for your client’s guided and solo sessions creates an overall program that includes variation, a key factor in stimulating positive adaptive response in the skeletal muscles.
Before you launch your clients into eccentric training, I want to arm you with a few facts to give you confidence in correctly instructing this approach and to be able to field any queries they or the confused onlooking gym member might ask.
KNOW YOUR STUFF
A great way to encourage buy-in from your clients, particularly the sports fanatics, is to point out that research shows eccentric training can significantly reduce the risk of injury (and re-injury).
Due to the slower rate of actin-myosin cross-bridge detachment, resulting in greater force production, your clients will be able to work with greater loads than usual, leading to accelerated results.
While eccentric exercise has been shown to result in greater delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), there is a ‘repeated bout effect’. So, exposing your clients to regular eccentric training will enable them to gain from the proven benefits, but with reduced amount of muscular damage.
Eccentric training leads to greater improvements in muscular strength, making it the ideal route to tackling sarcopenia (and osteoporosis) with your older clients. The good news here is that older exercisers are less susceptible to injury during eccentric training than their younger counterparts.
Although improvements are achieved via different adaptive responses, eccentric and concentric training methods produce similar gains in muscle size. Rather than a secret sauce, then, eccentric training should be seen as a valuable way to vary your clients’ workouts, reducing risk of boredom and the plateau effect, while still moving towards their goals.
Velocity of eccentric repetitions does not affect hypertrophy, so if you’re training a client for increased muscle mass, work at a repetition speed he/she finds comfortable.
Eccentric training is followed by a reduction in both force production and range of movement, so it should not be deployed before competing in a sports event. Ideally the following day should be a rest or light training day.
Speed of movement is critical, with faster speeds causing greater muscle damage. So in general, lean towards slow, controlled repetitions.
Eccentric training can also significantly elevate resting metabolic rate, making it a highly useful method for clients with weight loss goals.
PUTTING THEORY INTO PRACTICE
Here are two simple examples:
Eccentric Emphasis Method - select the usual resistance for an exercise and ask your client to perform the usual number of repetitions. The difference here is that you will instruct him/her to perform the concentric phase in 1 sec, but lower (eccentric phase) for 5 secs on every repetition. You will almost certainly need to spot your client and assist with the concentric phase on the last few repetitions of each set.
Supramaximal Eccentric Method - for each exercise, select a weight that is 105% of what your client normally lifts. The lift should be in 1-2 secs with you significantly assisting on every repetition. The aim is for your client to lower without your help, in 3 secs. Usual number of sets but on each set the load should be incrementally increased (i.e. to 110%, 115%, 120%).
Fenn, W. (1924). The relation between work the performed and the energy liberated in muscular contraction. Journal of Physiology, 58(6), 373-395.
Proske, U., & Allen, T.J. (2005). Damage to skeletal muscle from eccentric exercise. Exercise and Sports Science Reviews, 33(2), 98-104.
Herzog, W., Leonard, T.R., Joumaa, V., & Mehta, A. (2008). Mysteries of muscle contraction. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 24(1), 1-13.
Clarkson, P.M., & Hubal, M.J. (2002). Exercise-induced muscle damage in humans. American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 81(11Suppl):S52-69.
Roig, M., et al. (2009). The effects of eccentric versus concentric resistance training on muscle strength and mass in healthy adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(8), 556-568.
Lavendar, A.P., & Nosaka, K. (2006). Comparison between old and young men for changes in makers of muscle damage following voluntary eccentric exercise of the elbow flexors. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 31(3), 218-225.
Roschel, H., et al. (2011). Effect of eccentric exercise velocity on akt/mtor/p70s6k signaling in human skeletal muscle. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, Metabolism, 36(2), 283-290.
Chapman, D., et al. (2006). Greater muscle damage induced by fast versus slow velocity eccentric exercise. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 27(8), 591-598.
Hackney, K.J., Engels, H.J., & 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.
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