You might not be familiar with the term “concentric weight training.” But you probably know what it is. Picture a fitness enthusiast knocking out bicep curls. As the arm bends, the bicep muscles contract (or activate) as they shorten. This — and any other exercise that challenges muscles as they shorten — is called concentric weight training.
While concentric training has long been heralded as a dependable way to build muscle, the fitness world is buzzing about eccentric training. Unlike concentric training, eccentric training focuses on the part of an exercise where the muscles activate (or contract) while lengthening. For instance, you use eccentric strength when you straighten your arm after a bicep curl or lower into a squat.
There are many benefits associated with eccentric exercise, especially as we get older. Below, we explore these perks and provide tips for safe and effective eccentric training.
A Closer Look at Eccentric Training
Any time a muscle is tensed, the muscle fibers engage in one of three types of contractions: concentric, eccentric, or isometric. As mentioned earlier, concentric contraction happens when muscles shorten, and eccentric contraction happens when muscles lengthen. Isometric contraction happens when muscles stay activated at the same length for a period of time, such as during plank holds or wall sits.
Eccentric contractions most often occur when you lower part of the body or extend certain muscles, and there’s often a “braking” effect involved as the muscles support a body part (or multiple body parts) against gravity. If you focus on eccentric training while performing a bicep curl, you would lower the dumbbell in a slow, controlled manner to maintain resistance in the muscles during the eccentric portion of the movement. Eccentric strength can also provide shock absorption. For example, eccentric contraction happens when the knee muscles maintain coordination and balance while running downhill or walking down a set of stairs.
The Benefits of Eccentric Training
Eccentric exercise is all the rage for good reason. Here are some of the many benefits associated with it.
- It can build strength
Eccentric training can enhance muscle strength and coordination, improving athletic performance. What’s more, eccentric resistance training can produce strength gains with less weight resistance and reduced training time compared to concentric training.
- It’s accessible to people with limited mobility and/or certain health conditions
Eccentric training puts greater demand on muscles and less demand on the cardiovascular and metabolic systems, meaning it is more accessible to people who might not be able to perform high-intensity cardio or concentric training. In particular, eccentric training may be more suitable for older people and people with certain health conditions, including arthritis, cardiorespiratory issues, musculoskeletal diseases, Parkinson’s disease, pulmonary disease, sarcopenia, or type 2 diabetes. (That said, it’s smart to consult a doctor before starting any new exercise routine.)
- It can improve daily functioning
We all engage in eccentric tasks while going about our daily lives — for instance, while walking downhill or rising from a chair. An eccentric training regimen can improve strength, coordination, and balance during everyday activities.
- It can enhance flexibility
A 2022 review found notable improvements in lower limb flexibility as a result of eccentric training. Additionally, eccentric exercise can improve range of motion, which enhances functional fitness (i.e. daily functioning) and reduces the risk of injury — which brings us to the next benefit.
- It can prevent injuries
Research from 2019 found that eccentric training can reduce the risk of injury during a wide range of activities because it improves strength, balance, and coordination. And because of those same effects, this type of training can also reduce the risk of falls.
- It can assist in the management of metabolic diseases
The 2019 review cited above found people who engaged in 30 minutes of eccentric exercise per week for eight weeks experienced a variety of metabolic improvements, including decreased insulin resistance and increased lipid oxidation. The researchers concluded that eccentric training may help prevent or treat metabolic diseases.
How to (Safely) Practice Eccentric Training
Ready to give eccentric training a try? Keep these tips in mind to create a safe and effective workout plan.
- Build your routine slowly
People who are new to eccentric training should start with a phased approach. Many bodyweight exercises can be performed with an eccentric focus, including calf raises, deadlifts, pushups, rows, and squats. Start with one set of eight to 10 reps per exercise and build gradually from there. Or start with a 5-minute session of eccentric training, then build to 10 minutes, and so on.
- Slow down during the eccentric part of an exercise
Emphasize controlling the part of an exercise when the muscle(s) lengthen. Try counting to one during the concentric part of the exercise and counting to three during the eccentric part.
- Train around two or three times a week
Research from 2021 found that participating in eccentric training two or three times each week is all it takes to gain significant improvements in strength and functional fitness.
- Prioritize recovery
Eccentric training often causes delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which usually arises 12 to 24 hours after exercise and takes a few days to dissipate. Give your body — or even just the primary muscle groups you worked — 48 to 72 hours between workouts so it has time to repair between sessions. On your off days, consider low-impact activities such as walking, yoga, or swimming.
During eccentric training, you focus on the part of an exercise when the muscles lengthen and/or support the weight of the body against gravity. This type of training offers a number of benefits — especially for older folks — including muscle growth, injury prevention, enhanced balance and coordination, increased flexibility, and improvements in daily functioning.
The tips above will help you develop a safe and effective eccentric training program. With some practice, adding eccentric training to your routine could lead to significant fitness gains.