There are three main contractions involved in any exercise or movement. They are the concentric, eccentric and isometric.
The concentric contraction is what we typically focus on during a rep.
Types of muscle contractions
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The concentric portion
The “positive” element of the rep, or the exertion. This is the part of the movement in which you are lifting the weight and your muscle actually shortens as your two limbs move.
For example: during a biceps curl, as you lift the dumbbell up against gravity, your biceps muscle will shorten. Thus the lifting portion of the curl is considered concentric.
The isometric contraction
The period of dynamic stabilization when the body pauses. This can occur at any moment during a repetition if you pause and stop moving the weight, or it can happen for a split second as you switch from your concentric portion of the repetition to the eccentric.
The final portion of the contraction spectrum is the eccentric
The eccentric is also known as the “negative” element of the exercise. This is the aspect of the contraction spectrum that we will focus on for this article.
The eccentric portion of the contraction is the lowering the load.
In the movement of a biceps curl
This part of the contraction occurs when the weight is being lowered back down to the starting position. During this type of contraction, the muscle actually lengthens as tension is produced within the muscle itself.
It is actually this type of contraction that is most often responsible for the muscle soreness you feel after resistance training.
So it is just as important to pay attention to this part of your contraction when exercising.
As we learned, eccentric contractions are a very important part of the muscle action spectrum. Now let’s talk about how to incorporate the contraction into your exercise program.
1. Control the eccentric portion
One of the best ways to take advantage of the eccentric portion of an exercise is to control the weight as you lower it. So often we allow gravity to do the dirty work and rush through the eccentric. By controlling the weight as it lowers, you are working the eccentric part of your muscle.
2. Vary your tempo
Aside from control, you can also vary the tempo when focusing on your eccentric contraction. Try to go as slow as you possibly can when completing the eccentric movement for a few repetitions, or perhaps even the last one or two. This will allow you to train your muscles in a slightly different way, thus challenging your body a little differently
3. Lift heavier loads (with assistance)
Eccentric contractions actually allow you to lift a heavier load. One way to accomplish a heavier load is to have a spotter assist you with the concentric portion of the exercise and lower the weight on your own (with control).
This will allow you to build strength in a different way. You’ll definitely feel the difference!
I hope you’ve learned a little bit about how your muscles work and how to take advantage of the eccentric movement in your exercises.
As always, enjoy your workouts and leave any comments or questions below!
Connect with Expert Sarah Walentynowicz.