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Using Eccentric Exercise for Specific Goals

By: NCSF  on:  Dec 1 2015
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Concentric, eccentric and isometric muscular contractions are often taught and thought about as parts of a whole – in reference to an exercise from start to finish. However, exercises can be modified to include only concentric, eccentric or isometric muscle action based on the client’s goals and needs. Concentric-only actions are often used for improving power and acceleration; isometric actions are frequently used for improving stability or endurance; while eccentric actions can serve a number of specific needs related to performance, muscular health and tissue recovery. An eccentric contraction occurs as a muscle is forcibly elongated to decelerate a load under control. They often occur as a byproduct during standard training programs, as part of dynamic muscular actions, but exercise professionals should recognize the uses and benefits of eccentric-specific training. This way they can exploit it properly when it fits the needs of program design.

Here are a few basic applications for eccentric training:

  • Injury prevention - Eccentric exercises are often implemented prior to high-intensity concentric work when a given level of deceleration control is needed to limit injury risk. A key example of this would be to perform basic landing drills before intense plyometrics or lower body rebounds (e.g., tuck jumps, depth jumps).
  • Overcoming plateaus - Negative training (or sets) can be used to overcome a plateau for a given lift, such as a bench press. This involves using a load that surpasses one’s repetition maximum (105-115%) while performing only the eccentric phase of the lift at a slow, controlled speed. This obviously requires spotting assistance to return the bar or other modality back to the start position.
  • Tissue recovery - Numerous studies have shown eccentric work to expedite the healing process following a strain as long as the movements are performed correctly and with appropriate loading (e.g., tennis elbow or Achilles tendinopathy). Controlled, graded eccentric work encourages healing as the mechanical stimuli promotes biochemical signals for tendon adaptations (e.g., improved structural integrity, protein synthesis). It also promotes blood flow to the area which works hand-in-hand with transporting these biochemical signals.
  • Special populations - Appropriate eccentric exercises can be useful for the elderly to improve their balance and reduce their risk for falling (e.g., slowly sitting down on a chair with assistance on the way up). Eccentric exercises can also be effective for enhancing bone mineral density among those with osteopenia as eccentric work provides a suitable mechanical stimuli for maximized bone adaptations.

When used appropriately, eccentric training can complement a training program and aid in achieving trainer-client goals. While initially made popular by strength athletes looking to maximize force production, using the above methods are viable options in personal training.

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