Method Behind The Madness – Eccentric Interval Training

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Method Behind The Madness – Eccentric Interval Training

When designing workouts here at Fitness Revolution, unlike other “boot camps”, it’s not just about beating your clients into a pulp. All of our workouts follow a template that has been thoroughly researched by our team, and which provide an optimal environment for burning fat, building lean muscle, and produce optimal results for our members.

Below is a look into the “method behind the madness” of one of our recent workout templates.

An often-overlooked component of training, especially among boot camp instructors, is tempo.  Tempo refers to the speed at which a repetition is performed with each repetition being broken down into the three distinct phases in the movements of muscles and tendons:

– Lowering (eccentric) portion

– Pause (isometric) portion

– Lifting (concentric) portion

Unfortunately, most boot camp workouts only go at one speed… FAST!

Lifting weights too fast can lead to many problems, the most obvious one being injuries.  It’s critical that trainees lift with good form to both properly challenge the muscles of the body as well as avoid injuries.  If a beginner who hasn’t learned proper technique just starts throwing weights around they’re bound to get hurt, and if not, they’re still going to be less than satisfied with their results.  Lifting technique is critical for success, and when it comes to the relationship between speed and technique just remember that speed makes bad technique even worse!

On the flip side, the most widely accepted advice on tempo among fitness professionals is that you should lift and lower weights under full muscular “control” in a smooth, rhythmic fashion.  This generally leads to a 2-0-1 tempo.  For example, in the case of a squat you would lower your body for two seconds and then take one second to return to the starting position.  While this is a much safer approach and will certainly create positive physical changes, it’s certainly not the only way to train…

Subtle differences in tempo can have extremely significant impacts on results, as research and practical application have shown that muscles respond differently to varying training tempos.

In addition, deliberately focusing an entire training session on just one aspect of the repetition range (eccentric, isometric, concentric) will yield great benefits, as well as offer variety and fun to your overall weight loss and fitness training program.  It is this particular focus that we’ll be employing in our boot camp training program this month.

Eccentric Training

Science is proving what many bodybuilding experts have been preaching for years – that the negative, or eccentric, part of a repetition is extremely important for size and strength gains.  In fact, in a now famous (among fitness geeks like me) informal study, Nautilus creator Arthur Jones put Casey Viator on an eccentric-only training routine.   According to Jones, “in five weeks of negative-only workouts Casey added seven pounds of bodyweight while increasing his muscularity.”  In other words, he built muscle AND lost fat!

Eccentric training focuses on slowing down the elongation of a muscle and tendon group. In other words, it serves as a braking mechanism to protect your joints from damage prior to a subsequent concentric contraction. It’s critical to note that the vast majority of all chronic and acute injuries occur during deceleration type movements such as landing from a jump, quickly changing direction, or suddenly falling down. Think of eccentric training as sharpening your brakes so that your muscles and tendons are properly able to absorb kinetic energy and thus control any sudden or repetitive deceleration forces that may come your way. For this reason, it’s second to know for improving performance and reducing the risk of injuries in sport.

Why 5-second lowerings? First it’s important to note that tendons connect muscles to bones. Using the step-up example above, your patellar tendon connects your quad muscle to your knee cap. Well it takes a full 4 seconds to eliminate the aforementioned stretch reflex, or stored elastic energy, in your muscle and tendon groups. Subsequently, this is why eccentric training works great in rehab settings for conditions such as tendinoses because it takes the bounciness of the tendons out of the movement and forces the muscles to do all of the work. In this way, the muscles grow stronger to take pressure off of the tendons it works in conjunction with working against deceleration forces.

One reason eccentric training may be so effective for muscle growth is because of the significant microtrauma it causes to muscle tissue. This skyrockets metabolism as the body is forced to busily repair all those damaged muscle fibers. “Eccentric actions place a stretch on the sarcomeres to the point where the myofilaments (myosin and actin) may experience strain, otherwise known as exercise induced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)” (Aaron Bubbico & Len Kravitz, 2010). There’s a large body of evidence suggesting that muscular damage is associated with increased muscle growth, although research is still inconclusive in this area (Brentano et al. 2011; Komulainen et al. 2000; Zanchi et al. 2010).

Plus, you are much stronger eccentrically than concentrically because your muscles can oppose more force than they can generate. Think about how much easier it is for you to sit down into a chair than to get up and stand out of it. This is why the best way to be able to learn how to perform challenging bodyweight movements like push-ups and pull-ups through a full range of motion is by first mastering the lowering portion. Finally, since your muscles are elongating during the eccentric portion of a movement this leads to greater total muscle recruitment and subsequently a great stimulus for muscle growth. For all of these reasons, eccentric training is a well know tool to break through any frustrating strength, muscle-building, or weight loss plateaus.

However, caution is advised when it comes to eccentric-only training.  It is extremely taxing and can lead to severe soreness as mentioned earlier.  It’s very important that eccentric-only training is performed in limited amounts for a limited period of time.

Finally, when designing an eccentric-only workout, it’s best to choose exercises that are “self-limiting” meaning that you won’t be able to finish a rep if your form is bad. Also, be sure to choose exercises that won’t place you in a dangerous position when you reach total muscle failure that would require a spotter like barbell squats or bench presses.  That’s why exercises such as push-up, bodyweight row, single-leg squat, and step-up variations work great for eccentric-only training. After all, no one has ever died from collapsing to the floor while lowering from the top of a push-up – but sadly they have from bench pressing.


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