Focus on this aspect of your exercises for even stronger workouts

NOBODY STARTS one workout hoping to lift less than the one before. The goal is always to raise the bar (literally and figuratively), move more iron, squash more advanced exercise variations, do more reps and total sets.

And while such a mindset is crucial to really making money, it’s the basis of progressive overload that gets too much attention raising the bar may cause you to overlook an equally important aspect of strength training: lowering it.

We’re not talking about tweaking your goals down. We have been literal.

What are the eccentric and concentric phases

Each exercise (squat, deadlift, bench press, curl, row, etc.) is made up of two distinct phases: concentric and eccentric. The concentric phase is when you contract the targeted muscle by bringing the weight towards the shoulder in the bicep curl or pushing it away from the chest in the bench press, for example. The eccentric phase is when you stretch a muscle, such as when you lower the weight in each of these moves.

Advantages of the eccentric phase

The fact is that most kids rush through the eccentric phase, focusing almost exclusively on the concentric phase. Here’s why you shouldn’t: Focusing harder on the eccentric portion of each rep can significantly improve muscle growth and strength building.

In fact, research suggests it may be even more powerful in these respects than the concentric phase. In practice, you’ll also lengthen the amount of time the muscle spends under tension, which is key to increasing the growth spurt of each rep.

What is an eccentric exercise

There are two main ways to train eccentrically, and you probably already know the first one: slow down the lowering phase of each rep. Think about the last time you did the pullup, you probably controlled the climb, but chances are you returned to a dead hang faster than you did a chest lift at the bar. Next time, try to make the descent last at least as long (and preferably longer) as the climb (for example, three seconds uphill and five seconds downhill). If you’re feeling particularly strong, you can also insert some pauses, as you would in the triple stop pushup. You can also challenge yourself to resist gravity for as long as possible on the last repetition of the last set, seeing how long you can resist before reaching full extension.

Another strategy is to lower more weight than you could lift on your own. This approach is called eccentric weight training, and you’ll need a spotter for most free-weight exercises. Start by grabbing a heavier dumbbell or loading a bar with more plates than you normally would. Your spotter will help you increase the load during the concentric phase of each rep (for example, the curling portion of a preacher curl), and then withdraw during the eccentric (lower) phase, leaving you to fight gravity on your own. (If you’re on a machine like the leg extension, you can be your own spotter. Use both legs to lift the stack and one leg to lower it, alternating legs with each rep.)

Eccentric training mistakes to avoid

Whichever approach you choose, don’t get carried away with your workouts. Eccentric lifting is extremely strenuous, so overdoing it can increase muscle soreness and prolong recovery. Strength also tends to be directional, so focusing too intensely on lifting or lowering weights will make you disproportionately stronger in that particular muscle action. That’s why it’s important to weave both concentric and eccentric training into your schedule, with the majority of your lifts centered around the former.

It’s also important to note that some exercises lend themselves better to eccentric training than others. The barbell back squat and barbell bench press are generally not recommended for eccentric training unless you have a couple of experienced spotters to help you out, for example. Why? Because failing to lift the bar on those exercises can lead to serious injury, and in the weight room, your safety comes first. Always.

Quirky exercises to add to your workout

But there are a number of exercises for which eccentric training works particularly well. Here are a handful to get you started.

Push ups

preview for push-ups |  Form control

The quirky part of the pushup here is easy to identify. It’s when you lower yourself from the starting position of the high plank to the floor. Make sure you maintain constant tension to get the most out of each rep possible.

How to do it:

  • Start in a high plank position (hands stacked under shoulders), contracting shoulders, abs and glutes while maintaining a straight spine.
  • Bend your elbows to begin slowly lowering your chest, taking at least four to six seconds to reach the bottom position.
  • Press back to go back to the beginning.
  • If you’re running out of steam, try emphasizing the eccentric part as advised, then let your chest hit the ground and settle back to the starting position without pressing back up.

pull up

preview for Work Your Way to a Pullup

Eccentric reps are one of the best methods used by coaches to help beginners build strength for full reps of pullups, but you can use them to build strength no matter how many reps you can muster.

How to do it:

If you can do a standard pullup rep:

  • Start with your hands holding the bar in an overhand grip. Squeeze your shoulders, abs and glutes to create tension as you hang.
  • Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself down, spending four to six seconds until your elbows are extended.

If you want to work only the eccentric:

  • Use a weight bench or ladder to reach the bar and grip it in the prone position, with elbows bent in the top position of the standard pullup.
  • Lower yourself down, spending four to six seconds until your elbows are extended.

Bicep curls

preview for Biceps Curl |  Form control

Yes, the bicep curl contraction and compression at the top of the movement are important for building muscle, but don’t underestimate the importance of controlling the weight as you lower it to the starting position. This can also be an invaluable tool for getting some extra reps when you’re struggling to lift more weight and your main goal is volume.

How to do it:

  • Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides in a neutral grip (hands facing each other). He contracts his shoulders, abs and glutes to create tension throughout his body.
  • Squeeze one of your biceps to lift the dumbbell. Move only at the elbow, keeping the upper arm and shoulder totally vertical.
  • As you squat down, turn your hand so your palm is facing the sky when your elbow is parallel to the ground.
  • Continue lifting to the upper end of your range of motion without moving your upper arms forward, emphasizing the squeeze of your biceps.
  • Lower the weight with control, taking four to six seconds to emphasize the eccentric. He rotates his wrist back to the neutral position once he’s passed the halfway point.

Skull Crusher

preview for Skull Crusher |  Form control

The skullcracker is different from some of these other moves in that you probably always focus on the eccentric portion of the exercise (if only to avoid fulfilling the promise of its name). However, you can slow down even more to give your triceps an even greater challenge.

How to do it:

  • Lie on a flat bench, holding a pair of dumbbells in a neutral grip. Press the weights above your chest, then move your upper arms to about a 92-degree angle to your torso.
  • Only move on your elbows to lower the weight. Emphasize the eccentric by taking four to six seconds to reach the bottom point near your head.
  • Extend your elbows to return the weight to the starting position.

Incline dumbbell press

preview for Incline Bench Press |  Form control

Slow down as you lower the weight, emphasizing time under tension and giving your upper chest an even greater challenge.

How to do it:

  • Start by sitting in a strong position on an incline bench (feet digging into the ground, glutes digging into the seat, back flat on the cushion).
  • Lift the dumbbells to your shoulders and press them directly overhead, with the dumbbell heads pointing slightly inward.
  • Lower the weights again, taking four to six seconds to lower yourself to the starting position just above your upper chest, depending on your range of motion.

Squat goblet

preview for Goblet Squat |  Form control

Get started on lower-body eccentrics with this beginner-friendly squat variation, which will also give your core more of a challenge than you might expect (especially since you’re extending the amount of time you’re forced to hold the weight in place).

How to do it:

  • Get into a comfortable position and grab your weight, holding it in front of your chest with both hands. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to create tension in your mid back to help support the load.
  • Before lowering into the squat, take a deep breath and strengthen your core.
  • Push your butt back, then bend your knees to squat. Descend for 4-6 seconds, pushing your knees out and keeping your core engaged, until you reach a shallower depth that’s comfortable for your mobility.
  • Press into the floor with both feet to stand up, squeezing your glutes and exhaling up.
Headshot of Trevor Thieme CSCS

Trevor Thieme is a Los Angeles-based writer and strength coach and former fitness editor at Mens Health. When he’s not helping others get in shape, he divides his time between surfing, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and trying to keep up with his seven-year-old daughter.

#Focus #aspect #exercises #stronger #workouts
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