Muscle: Eccentric Contractions

Hello friends, and welcome back to your virtual home away from home. This is the place where the protein is plentiful, and the conversation is always about training, nutrition, and fat loss. There is always a positive atmosphere here, and because you are sticking to your training and diet, there is certainly some positive progress to show for your efforts as well. It’s getting to be training time again soon, so let’s look in our big book of muscle-building and see what we can find today.

Another week has passed, and once again it is time for the Muscle feature here at MattToronto.com. This is the post that is strictly dedicated to muscle growth, specifically the methods and philosophies that we can use to more effectively train, and increase our lean muscle mass as a result. We have been covering a wide variety of subjects of late, and today is no different. With that said, lets dive into todays subject, eccentric contractions. Perhaps we will learn how this negative can actually be positive in terms of growth for muscle size, as well as a boon to our strength.

We have spent some time learning about what muscles are composed of. We discussed their make up in Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy, amongst other muscle-building ideas. Also we have discussed how they function in terms of contractions in German Volume Training, as well as Rep Range For Maximum Muscle Mass. We also went over their recuperative needs, as well as their Training Frequency For Maximum Muscle Mass, to try to find out the ideal training split for growth. All of that was covered, and bears some relevance of course in terms of muscle-building, but today is all about the negative portion of each rep, and the bearing that has on muscle growth.

You may have heard that doing negative reps is a great way to get stronger, or to stimulate muscle growth, but do you know why? It makes more sense to most of us that the real lifting is happening when we push or pull the weight up. It turns out that just as much is happening as the weight is being lowered. Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of the reasons why the eccentric portion of a muscle contraction is so important.

Newton’s third law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The same is true of the body, as muscles cannot undo their own contraction. An opposing muscle is necessary to undo all the actions that each muscle performs. This is why we have opposing muscle such as the biceps and triceps. While one (biceps) flexes the arm, the other (triceps) extends the arm.

We need to take this a step further, and understand that said muscle (biceps) must still reverse its own action, and return to its original state even though it does not initiate the movement. This means that two separate forms of contraction must occur. Initially, the movement would be the concentric contraction of the biceps to lift the weight. On the lowering phase a completely different contraction, an eccentric one must occur within the muscles of the biceps.

To break this down even further, we need to know that there are three distinct contractions can occur with our muscles, all of which are equally important. The first is the concentric, or shortening of the muscle. This is the lift portion of any muscle group involved in moving the weight. The second is the eccentric contraction, which occurs during the lowering phase of the muscle groups involved. Lastly, there is the isometric contraction, which is a muscle contraction without lengthening or shortening. Essentially flexing our muscles, such as holding a dumbbell at the point of peak contraction during a biceps curl. Now that we’ve had this side talk, let’s get back to that negative discussion we were having earlier.

Now that we have a basic understanding of the three muscle contractions, let’s take a closer look at eccentric contractions. Many studies have shown that there is a greater force potential for eccentric contractions than there is for the concentric variety. To put this science into simple terms that we all can relate to; it is easier to lower a heavy weight than to it is lift one. This basic fundamental technique is commonly practiced because it is now known that the most myofibril damage is caused during the eccentric phase of the lift, and not the concentric portion as was once assumed.

The reason behind this is because as the muscle elongates it becomes unstable. This means that the weakest part of the myofibril is forced to handle the bulk of the work necessary to resist the negative force. This is very valuable for muscle growth, because in a concentric contraction we are unable to target this portion of the sarcomeres within the myofibril. If we target these muscle fibers specifically by intentionally training the negative portion of each rep, then there will be room for further growth.

In order to grow stronger we must increase the amount of tension a muscle endures. When a muscle is exposed to this tension it creates micro tears in the muscle fibers, essentially damaging them, and thereby forcing the body to adapt by increasing the size of the sarcomeres (Hypertrophy). If the same load is used in the following week, the resulting pain from delayed onset muscle soreness is likely to be less present. From this we can conclude that our body has adapted to meet this new level of muscle stress. If we constantly apply a progressive overload to this eccentric method of training new growth will be the end result, and our muscles become stronger.

While eccentric training may stimulate new growth it is just as important that we do not forget that concentric contractions are also important when trying to gain lean mass. For a balanced method of training try adjusting your tempo when lifting to have and equal focus on both. A tempo of 3-0-4 (3 second to lift, no pause, and 4 seconds to lower) will go a long way to balance the best of both methods, and yield new positive results. Those results of course are the result in part at least due to the negative.

Tomorrow bring yet another post that will have muscle as the subject. The first of the two weekly editions of Muscle Talk will be coming your way. If you missed either of last weeks posts, Muscle: Chest Muscles, and Muscle: Chest Muscles 2, have a quick read to get caught up. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you here again my friend,

Happy Lifting!

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2 comments for “Muscle: Eccentric Contractions

  1. August 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Thank you! I’m very happy that you now understand. The main agenda of this site is to educate, thereby giving power to those that take the time to learn. Knowledge is the power that will generate success.

  2. Anonymous
    August 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    I have heard that negative reps are good, but didn’t understand the reason-until now. Great post bro!

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