Sets and Reps # 4: When to use eccentric training
Here are some thoughts on the subject of eccentric training.
I’ve talked about eccentric training before as a method of developing muscle hypertrophy. With this method you are essentially stressing the muscle with high loads for longer periods of time with the rationale being that it causes more microtrauma. We know that. I think most people are using this method from time to time in their hypertrophy training. But if you do have any questions on eccentrics for hypertrophy then let me know, I’ll be more than happy to give you my thoughts.
I tend to use 5 or 6 second eccentrics for 5-8 reps which are then followed by the concentric movement. I’m not a huge fan of pure eccentrics as much as anything because they need more people to lift the bar up afterwards which in groups can be hard to monitor and logistically challenging. They are also extremely stressful on the nervous system so watch for this if you are using them in your training or with your athletes.
Anyway here’s another couple of times you might choose to use eccentric training in your coaching.
1. Athletic Development:
I hadn’t thought of using eccentric training with athletic development populations until I spoke with Jared Deacon a while ago when he was talking about his super slow method of strength development. Now this is nothing to do with loading; it’s everything to do with learning the movement. Jared used a 7s eccentric with a 7s concentric to help people to learn about the movement, feeling everything about it, all the way through the exercise. This works great with squats.
If you want to learn more from Jared check this out.
I use what I term ‘The Gear System’ in my coaching which is a car driving metaphor that helps people to learn by doing things a little slower. Very effective in beginners and advanced athletes who tend to think they are good enough to do it fast when in fact they are not. So limit them to 1st or 2nd gear and they tend to understand this better.
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast!! (This was on the whiteboard in the gym the other day and I thought it was pretty cool. Training slower helps people to learn the nuances of the movement in question)
2. Variation in strength phases:
From a strength perspective eccentrics can help a lot in short phases of 2-3 weeks I’ve found. Take some weight off, come away from your heavy singles and really stress someone with eccentric tension then go back to strength and this variation does create adaptations in my experience. You only need to use 1 or 2 exercises for this, don’t take all the high loading out the programme, just a couple of movements.
3. Rehabilitation/Preventative Work:
There are some decent research and anecdotal evidence to show eccentric exercise can help with tendon strengthening and prehab work. I like to use it for conditioning for the wrists in racquet sports, eccentric single leg squats and calf raises/drops for jumpers and then areas that need to be emphasised in individual cases.
When to incorporate it?
For me, it’s a variation tool, a method to introduce some time under tension when people need it, a learning tool that can be called on in coaching sessions. A rehab tool that can help reduce injuries.
So I like to use it in 3 week phases, picking out certain exercises. In terms of programming, be careful about putting it in when your athletes need to perform that weekend, just like any new addition to the programme. You wouldn’t put a new exercise into the programme just before competitions, same goes here. I’ve made people sore when I shouldn’t have by not introducing it early enough.
Take advantage of free strength first and if your athletes are getting stronger without it, don’t bother with it. Use it as a variation to stimulate gains.
Lifting at 85% and above consistently gets you stronger. Eccentrics are extremely stressful when done at this intensity and you’re more likely to get people doing them well around 75-80%. Do consider the load your putting on the bar, start off lighter.
Let me know if you’ve used eccentrics and what you’ve found,