So far we have discussed the first 2 parts of performance enhancement training. First we covered the importance of sport specific training and how to achieve equilibrium through integration for optimal performance. Then we got to the second part where we emphasized the importance of core stability and how it assists in injury prevention and forms the foundation for improved performance.
ECCENTRIC TRAINING is the topic for the third part of Performance Enhancement Training. This will lead to greater strength and stability and in so doing enhance your performance. Sounds easy enough doesn’t it? Now that I’ve got your attention, with probably a perplexed look on your face, let me tell you all about what it is and how this type of training can benefit your performance.
There are three distinct phases during a muscle contraction: Isometric, Concentric and Eccentric.
Isometric is where a muscle contracts, but no movement take place, e.g. pushing against a wall or trying to pick up something and using all your force but the object is just not moving.
Concentric is a muscle contraction where the muscle fibre length shortens. This type of contraction is most commonly used and forms part of every basic gym program, e.g. it is the upward movement of a bicep curl or a muscle contraction that occurs in all rhythmic activities.
Eccentric contraction is the lowering phase of an exercise or a muscle contraction that occurs as the muscle fibres lengthen, e.g. in a biceps curl the action of lowering the dumbbell back down from the lift is the eccentric phase of that exercise, as long as the dumbbell is lowered slowly and controlled rather than letting it drop.
In our training programs we tend to focus only on the concentric phases of movement. We can’t solely focus on simply raising the weight when performing strength training exercises. It is important to be able to produce force just as it’s important to be able to control force. When it comes to sport, we need to resist movement rather than produce movement. When we are trying to control an opponent or resist an opponent’s forces, we need to deal with that force in a different manner. By focusing on the eccentric portion of the movement, we can focus on stabilizing and keeping proper form.
I am not here to bore you with the microscopic details of how it works exactly and explain everything as if you are reading this in a medical textbook. However, I will give you the key findings that have been researched regarding the benefits of eccentric training:
• Eccentric contractions use less energy and actually absorb energy that can be used as elastic recoil for the next movement
• Older individuals are less vulnerable to injury, primarily because of the reduced strain on muscles and tendons than traditional concentric training
• Increased resting metabolic rate
• While energy costs remain low, the degree of force generated is very high. This leads to muscles that respond with significant increases in muscle strength, size and power compared to traditional concentric training.
Now how do we use this practically? Say you are very strong during double leg squats but can’t perform one single repetition for a single leg squat. Now with eccentric training you get to lower your body weight under control on one limb. This will also increase your stability quite a bit as well. When you go into a single leg squat, the load can change drastically. Different muscles will stabilize the body in order to resist rotation, lateral flexion, and extension of the lumbar spine. Over time, you will gain enough strength and stability to be able to perform the concentric versions of the single limb exercises.
As an athlete, hopefully you can appreciate the value in eccentric exercises. You can implement these strategies in order to progress to get more proficient and stronger in certain movement patterns. You can use long eccentrics to increase the time under tension to build more muscle or make gym training more challenging and improve your stability in those movements.
Eccentric variations can also be used to make an exercise harder. By using 5 second eccentric phases and then perform the concentric phase explosively. This will give you the advantage of the stabilization benefits of the eccentric phase, and then explode on the concentric part in order to maintain power for the concentric phase.
Ballistic exercises certainly have its place, but should be reserved for more advanced athletes who have strong ligaments and tendons, so they can handle the forces of ballistic movements. But more on this next month, where we will look at Plyometrics as the last part of performance enhancement training.