Eccentric Training for Athletes
As stated in my isometric training article, often times in our training programs we tend to focus only on the concentric phases of movement. As strength coaches, we can't solely focus on simply raising the weight when performing strength training exercises.
It is important to be able to produce force just as it's important to be able to control force. Sometimes in real life and sports, we need to resist movement rather than produce movement. When we are trying to control an opponent or resist an opponent’s forces, we need to deal with that force in a different manner.
Eccentric only: Negative reps a way to regress body weight exercises
By focusing on the eccentric portion of the lift, we can really focus on stabilizing and keeping proper form. There are certainly times when a quick eccentric phase is important, but when we are focusing on teaching form and stabilizing, it isn't optimal. Eccentric only training is a great way to introduce body weight exercises to beginning athletes and can be done with little to no equipment.
If a person is unable to perform a proper push-up, he can simply lower himself to the floor. This is called an eccentric only rep. Over time, he will develop strength and eventually will be able to perform a proper push-up. If he still can’t perform a single rep, the trainer can do a longer eccentric phase for each rep. For example, he may start with a five-second lowering phase and progress to 10-, 15-, and even 20-second eccentric reps. This can be done with a variety of exercises. I find it works particularly well with pull-ups, push-ups, glute ham raises, slide board leg curls, and roll outs.
Here are some examples of regressions of popular body weight exercises:
Eccentric only push-up:
Eccentric only chin-up:
Eccentric only glute ham raise (natural glute ham raise):
Eccentric only rollout:
Eccentric only slide board leg curl:
Eccentric Emphasis: Control on the way down and explode on the way up!
Eccentric variations can be also used to make an exercise harder. We call this eccentric emphasis training. For example, if you have a male athlete who can do 20 inverted rows with his feet elevated but you don't have a way to load the athlete, you can have him lower himself for a given amount of time and then have him perform the concentric portion of the exercise with a normal tempo. The trainer can vary the count. I like to use three- to five-second eccentric phases and have the athlete perform the concentric phase of the lift explosively. I believe that if athletes train slow, they will stay slow, so I don't advocate slow lifting when performing the concentric phase of the movement. I like to take advantage of the stabilization benefits of the eccentric portion of the lift and then explode on the concentric portion of the lift in order to maintain strength and power for the concentric phase.
This can also be used for weight training exercises as well. For example, if you have an athlete who bounces the bar on his chest for benching or bounces out of the hole for squats, the coach can use eccentric emphasis training to help keep that particular athlete safe. Let me also just say that training the stretch reflex certainly has its place as well, but there is a fine line between using the stretch reflex in order to train reversal strength and little Johnny at Gold’s Gym who looks like he is going to break his sternum with every rep from bouncing the bar. Even if it's just a slight pause on the bottom of the lift, it will help keep the athlete healthy and save his joints.
Ballistic lifting certainly has its place but should be reserved for a more advanced athlete who has the ligaments and tendons built up already, so he can handle the forces of ballistic lifting. I'm sure many readers on this site have had sore joints from speed benching with bands. This is one example of how ballistic lifting can be very beneficial in producing force but also be very hard on the joints.
Eccentric emphasis inverted rows:
Eccentric emphasis glute ham raises:
Eccentric exercise: Negative reps to progress into unilateral exercise
Eccentric exercises are a great way in order to bridge the gap between single and double leg exercises. For example, an athlete may be very strong during double leg squats but can't perform one single repetition for a single leg squat. The athlete will get to lower her body weight under control on one limb. This will also increase her stability quite a bit as well.
When an athlete goes into single leg or single arm stance, the load can change drastically. Different muscles will stabilize the body in order to resist rotation, lateral flexion, and extension of the lumbar spine. Over time, the athlete will gain enough strength and stability to be able to perform the concentric versions of the single limb exercises.
This is a good way to bridge the gap for double to single leg squats to a bench, double to single leg glute bridges, double to single leg slide board leg curls, kneeling to standing roll outs, one arm push-ups, and many others. This will help add a new challenge to an easier exercise and help the athlete get ready for harder progressions in the future.
Eccentric single leg slide board leg curl:
One leg eccentric squat:
One arm eccentric roll out:
One arm eccentric push-ups:
As an athlete, lifter, or weekend warrior, hopefully you can appreciate the value in both eccentric and isometric exercises. You can implement these strategies in order to progress or regress body weight movements to get more proficient and stronger in certain movements patterns. You can use long eccentrics to increase the time under tension to build more muscle or make free weight exercises more challenging and improve your stability in those lifts. You can use pause variations for free weight exercises for an added challenge and to improve starting strength and stability in the bottom position for squats and bench presses. Isometric exercises can also help you progress or regress body weight exercise as well.
I hope you enjoyed this series. Please feel free to leave any comments below if you have any questions.
- Boyle M (2010) Advances in functional training: training techniques for coaches, personal trainers and athletes. Santa Cruz, CA: On Target Publications.
- Boyle M (2006) Designing strength training programs and facilities (Adobe Digital Editions). Retrieved from: http://www.strengthcoach.com/.
- Boyle M (2004) Functional training for sports. 1st ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.
- Rooney M (2008) Training for warriors: the ultimate mixed martial arts workout. New York, New York: Harper Paperbacks.