Build your muscles the eccentric way

Build your muscles the eccentric way
by Kathleen Trotter | September 18, 2011

Ever completed a workout and felt fine afterwards, only to feel an ache in the worked muscles 48 hours later? This is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS for short, and it normally occurs 24 to 48 hours after exercise. The definitive cause of DOMS isn’t known, but eccentric training is often cited. So what, exactly, is eccentric training? It’s the lengthening - or controlled downward phase - of lifting weights.

For example, when you do a biceps curl and lift the weight towards your shoulder, that is considered the concentric phase. Lowering the weight back to its starting position is the eccentric phase.

The tempo of the eccentric phase is one of the variables that can be manipulated in a weight training session. In fact, it’s one of my favorite ways to ensure that my clients aren’t relying too heavily on momentum to increase their strength.

The tempo of the eccentric phase is useful to manipulate since you can always lower more weight during the eccentric phase then you can lift during the concentric phase.

Let me explain...

For any level of weight lifting, lowering a weight using a four-count tempo can be a good reality check. If you can only do one or two quality reps with a weight at this tempo when you normally do ten to twelve reps at your own tempo, this is a sign you’re relying too heavily on momentum.

For a beginning weight lifter, replacing a lowering tempo of two counts with one of four counts is an excellent way to increase your muscular challenge without the risk of increasing your weight faster than your connective tissue can handle.

For example, if you’ve mastered the basic non-weighted lunge, increase your lowering tempo to four counts before you try to hold weights as you lunge. Once you can do ten to fifteen reps with this slower tempo, then you’re ready to hold five-pound weights and return to a more standard two-count lowering tempo.

For an intermediate to advanced weight lifter, eccentric push-ups and pull-ups can help you master the full variations of these exercises.

Eccentric push-ups

This exercise is perfect if you haven’t yet mastered the full push-up from your toes. Most people get used to working in the upper range and do half push-ups. To gain the strength to do full push-ups, try the eccentric push-up first.

Start in a push-up position from your toes. Go down to the ground as slowly as possible. Take ten to fifteen counts. Once at the bottom, don’t try to push up. Just fall to the ground and then bring your bum back over your heels to work back up to the starting position. Do five to ten reps.

Eccentric pull-ups

This exercise is perfect if you haven’t mastered the full pull-up yet. Grab hold of the chin-up bar using a bench to position yourself so your chin is higher then the bar. Hold for as long as you can, and then lower as slowly down as you can. Do five to ten reps.

Since eccentric training does produce more muscle soreness, proper recovery is important. Vitamin C and E and other antioxidants help with tissue recovery and can be beneficial in reducing your delayed onset muscle soreness.

After a challenging lifting session, give the muscle group used a 24 to 48 hour rest before lifting again. That said, complete passive recovery isn’t always necessary. Active recovery can be useful, too. Every week I recommend one full day of passive recovery where you do nothing. On alternate days, you can use active recovery to help sore muscles feel better. Active recovery consists of light, non-impact activity. For example, if your legs are tired, try going for a light walk. Or if your upper body is tight, try doing some light dynamic flexibility exercises for the affected muscle group.

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About the Author - Kathleen Trotter

Kathleen Trotter is a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist located in downtown Toronto. She is currently completing her masters at the University of Toronto in Exercise Science. She has written articles for various magazines and on line publications such as chatelaine, Glow magazine, Canadian Running, Best Health magazine online, AOL on line, Pilates COREterly. She has also been featured on MTV and global as a fitness expert. Take a look at her website kathleentrotter.com for a full list of credentials and certifications. Kathleen also is a regular contributor to the Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto.

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