What Are Eccentric Exercises?
Have you ever had your trainer, coach, or training partner told you to slowly perform an exercise slowly? Or have you ever done “negatives”?
Eccentric exercises are exactly that; they are slow, lengthening muscle contractions that are for a specific muscle. For example, if you imagine slowly lowering yourself down to sit into a chair, the slow motion of you going from a standing position to sitting is an eccentric contraction, or “negative”.
If you never heard of an eccentric exercise, or negatives, scroll down for some examples before reading more!
To get a little more scientific, the muscle is lengthening while under tension due to an outside force being greater than the force generated by your muscle. The muscle acts to slow a specific joint throughout a range of motion or control the repositioning of a load. Furthermore, a muscle that is being lengthened while it is contracting can maintain greater tension than it can develop at the same static length. In other words, your muscles are actually stronger and can take more force doing a negative than a hold/isometric or a concentric contraction. Brief overview of the different contractions.
Why Are Eccentric Exercises Important?
1. Facilitates Muscle Change
Eccentric loading has been linked to greater muscle strength gain and hypertrophy, especially type-2 fibers. This is a result of increased muscle tendon unit load, as well as, load intensity. For a brief overview of skeletal muscle you can check out this link. As mentioned earlier in the blog, your muscles can withstand more force doing an eccentric exercise than other forms of exercise.
2. Improves Tendon Health & Stiffness
Eccentrics play a huge role when it comes to tendon health by improving stiffness. It may sound counterintuitive but stiffness is not a bad thing. We actually want stiffness in our tendons but not in our joints. Decreased stiffness in tendons is one of the reasons why athletes get tendinopathies such as jumper’s knee and Achilles’ tendinopathy.
As a result of improved tendon stiffness, this will essentially help bulletproof your tendons from injuries. Studies have shown that eccentric exercises improve the capacity of the tendon unit load, which leads to an improved ability to adapt to load. Improving the capacity of the tendon will help decrease tendinopathy injuries.
Improving Tendon Stiffness
The reason we want stiffness is that it allows your tendon to withstand high loads. The stiffness allows for proper energy storage, and the contract-relax portion of jump to occur. For example, think of the act of jumping as a spring. If the spring is too loose, it won’t store energy well and the rebound effect will be minimal. However, if the spring is tight when it is loaded, it will store more energy, create more force and lead to a greater vertical jump.
3. Better Range of Motion
Eccentric training may improve your range of motion. Studies have shown an increase in ankle range of motion following 6 weeks of eccentric loading. This improvement in range of motion is due to reduced resistance to passive stretching from improved muscle tendon unit compliance. Therefore, eccentric contractions are improving your tissue’s capacity to tolerate deeper ranges of motion. In other words, if you want to improve your mobility, do not solely stretch but add in eccentric training.
3. Improves Mind-Body Connection or Neural Adaptations
Another great thing that eccentric training does is that it leads to improvement in neural adaptations. In other words, neural adaptations allow you to get stronger. As you perform eccentric training, your body and mind learns how to use the correct muscles (agonist) when lifting and shutting off the muscles that you are not supposed to be using (antagonist). It is also responsible for the improvements in strength early on when you start working out for the first time.
In other words, the first several weeks of strength gains you achieve from training are not from your muscles getting bigger, but from improvements in neural adaptations. These neural adaptations are best described and made famous by Arnold Schawanegger as the mind-body connection.
3. Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
The only negative effect of eccentric training DOMS. DOMS is a side effect of not only eccentric training, but also when performing exercises your body isn’t accustomed to doing. The reason you are sore when you go to the gym and workout is because of the eccentric contractions done during the session. However, through graded exposure the delayed onset of muscle soreness actually decreases.
Recommended Sets, Holds, & Intensity
Recommended tempo 5 seconds down 1 second pause then 1 second concentric. Perform these for 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps with 60-90 seconds of rest. (Bender)
Here are some of our favorite eccentric exercises for basketball athletes. These exercises are geared to targeting the most important tendons of the lower body which include the quadriceps, adductors, hamstrings, and calf.
1. 2 Up 1 Down Eccentric Deficit Heel Raise
- Eccentrically load the Achilles’ tendon
- Improve Achilles’ tendon health, strength and stiffness
- Increase ankle mobility.
- Use support to eliminate the balance component; This is not a balance exercise
- Use a step, stack of books, curb, or other elevated surface
- Place your ball of your foot or forefoot on the surface
- Raise up as high as you can on both toes
- Shift your weight completely to one leg
- 3-5 second count down
- Slow & Controlled as far down as you can comfortably
2. Eccentric Groin/Adductor Lateral Lunge
- Eccentrically load the adductors and the tendon.
- Improve groin/adductor tendon health & strength
- Use a glider, paper plate, towel, or socks to decrease friction on the floor
- Majority of your weight will be on the leg that is sliding out
- Slide the leg out as far as you can comfortably
- Slow and controlled (3-5 seconds out)
- Pull the leg that is out back in using your adductors/groin
- Stance leg: Keep knee aligned with 2nd/3rd toe, match shin/trunk angle, and make sure ankle, knee, hip and trunk are all stacked up
3. Hamstring Walkout
- Eccentrically load the hamstrings by walking out your legs one step at a time.
- Improve hamstring tendon health/strength
- Stay in a bridge throughout the entire movement if you can
- Slow & Controlled
- Keep stomach taut and squeeze your glutes the entire time
- Don’t let your hips sag down or arch your back
- Drive through your heel
Regression: Drop hips down, bring legs back, then repeat
4. Eccentric Forward Lunge
- Eccentrically load the patellar tendon and the quadriceps.
- Improve quadriceps/patellar tendon strength/health
- Majority of your weight on your front leg
- Knee tracking over 2nd/3rd toe
- Ankle, knee, hips, trunk, and pelvis are all stacked up
- Shin an trunk angle are matched
- Slow and controlled down (3-5 seconds down)
Bender, Blake. Energy System Development in the Weight Room: Incorporating Prescribed Rest Periods For NCAA Men’s Basketball Players (2019)
Mahieu et al. Effect of eccentric training on the plantar flexor muscle-tendon tissue properties (2008)
Malliaras et al. Achilles and Patellar Tendinopathy Loading Programmes (2013)
Dr. Gabriel Ignacio PT, DPT, OCS, TPI
Dr. Marco Lopez PT, DPT, CSCS
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