Eccentrics for Maximal Strength

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Snapshot of Takeaway Points

  • If used properly, eccentric training can improve maximal strength levels
  • Use eccentric strength deficit to identify your potential to improve
  • Three 12 week programs included

Introduction

Utilising eccentrics for increasing maximal strength is nothing new but it receives mixed reviews. I believe this to be due to improper execution and understanding of the process. Those that ignore it completely, are missing out on easy gains.

For those that are gym newbies, eccentric strength is also referred to as yielding strength. The eccentric portion of the lift is the lowering of the weight back down to planet earth. This is when the muscle is lengthening with no loss in tension. With tempo it is indicated as the first number, so 40X0 would mean:

  • First number: 4 seconds to complete the eccentric phase
  • Second number: 0 seconds at the isometric point after the eccentric
  • Third number: X indicates to lift as fast as possible in the concentric phase
  • Fourth number: 0 seconds at the isometric point after the concentric

Benefits of Eccentric Training

  • Identifies what to work on & your potential to improve
  • Enhances: ability to decelerate, speed at amortisation phase, stored levels of elastic energy and landing control from jumps
  • Enhanced tendon strength and regeneration
  • Selectively recruits fast twitch muscle fibres and greater high threshold motor unit recruitment
  • Improves control and energy leakage of the lift
  • Reduces risk of injury and improves flexibility levels
  • Desensitizes Golgi Tendon Organs and increases confidence with greater loads
  • Increases hypertrophy & protein synthesis
  • Strength/Power potentiation 6-8 weeks post utilisation

Sounds like a recipe for getting stronger right?!

Program Design Considerations

  • 2 years of training is needed before eccentric only
  • High volume work best (7-10 sets)
  • You need shaking/tremors during the eccentric portion to gain an optimal response
  • You will be sore as fuck from this
  • 5 seconds is the minimum recommendation for the eccentric with 10 being optimal
  • 10-14 days is required between eccentric work on any one muscle group
  • Any loss in tension at any point during the movement means you failed the execution of the lift and therefore received limited benefits
  • Only 6+ weeks prior to competition/peak due to incomplete recovery and decreased rate of force development if shorter period is used
  • You don’t need antagonistic pairs

Eccentric strength deficit

This is a calculation of the difference between your maximal concentric and maximal eccentric. For example:

  • Maximal concentric = 200kg
  • Maximal eccentric = 240kg
  • Eccentric strength deficit = 40kg or 20% (40/200 = 0.2 = 20%)

So knowing whether or not to use eccentrics can be indicated by this number. A low percentage means you’re nearly at your maximum potential. To increase this potential you should opt to train eccentrics. A higher number means you should use a more normal/traditional approach to training. As you get closer to competition/peak a smaller deficit is ideal and indeed aimed for.

Most people know their maximal concentric lift as it’s the normal lift so you should consider testing a maximum eccentric to find out this deficit. Complete your warm up to your 80% of your maximum, which should take 5 sets. Use a 50X0 tempo for every repetition. Then put 90-95% of your maximum on the bar and perform eccentric only repetitions from here on still at a five second eccentric.

This means using a power rack so you can dump the bar at the bottom. The speed must be constant so if you lose control at any point during the movement, you’re done. You’ll probably achieve failure within 3-4 sets but don’t be surprised if it is more or less based on a variety of factors.

I have seen numbers where the eccentric is lower than the concentric, particularly in the deadlift. Often due to the fact the lifter only ever drops a deadlift to the ground.

How to Periodise Eccentrics

Here is the key area most misapply which is why I believe there aren’t concrete studies as to its effectiveness. If you take the above considerations you’ll notice the two key factors are 10-14 days between the eccentric session and no closer than 6 weeks before the peak. So your outline needs to looks like:

  • 12 Weeks out:
  • 11 Weeks out: Eccentric Session
  • 10 Weeks out:
  • 9 Weeks out: Eccentric Session
  • 8 Weeks out:
  • 7 Weeks out: Eccentric Session
  • 6 Weeks out:
  • 5 Weeks out:
  • 4 Weeks out:
  • 3 Weeks out:
  • 2 Weeks out:
  • 1 Week out:
  • Peak/Competition Day

The order of progression in general eccentric methods is as follows:

  • Stage 1: Regular reps to failure +1 or 2 eccentrics with same weight
  • Stage 2: Regular reps to failure +1 or 2 eccentrics with more weight
  • Stage 3: 4-6 eccentric only reps (Total Time Under Tension: 20-40 seconds)
  • Stage 4: Supra-maximal eccentric & reduced concentric (Eccentric hooks)
  • Stage 5: 1-3 eccentric only reps (Total Time Under Tension: 5-20 seconds)

Yes stage 5 is sexy as fuck, but don’t be that person that skips stages! If you can progress on stage one then you may as well use it.

Here are some example models for you to try out. Periodisation is simply numbers so there are countless variations for you to design yourself with the above principles:

Beginner Periodisation Model

  • 12 Weeks out: 5 sets x 4-6 reps @ 50X0
  • 11 Weeks out: 4 sets x 4-5+1 Rep @ 50X0 (+1 = Eccentric Only at same weight)
  • 10 Weeks out: 5 sets x 4-6 reps @ 50X0
  • 9 Weeks out: 4 sets x 4-5+1 Rep @ 50X0 (+1 = Eccentric Only with 5-10% extra weight)
  • 8 Weeks out: 5 sets x 4-6 reps @ 50X0
  • 7 Weeks out: 4 sets x 4-5 reps @ 50X0 (Eccentric Only for all repetitions)
  • 6 Weeks out: 6 sets x 4 reps @ 40X0
  • 5 Weeks out: 5 sets x 4 reps @ 40X0
  • 4 Weeks out: 6 (3-2-1) reps @ 30X0 (Rest Pause 10 seconds)
  • 3 Weeks out: 6 (3-2-1) reps @ 30X0 (Rest Pause 10 seconds)
  • 2 Weeks out: 5,3,2,5,3,2 @ 20X0
  • 1 Week out: 5,3,2,5,3,2 @ 20X0
  • Peak/Competition/Testing Day

Intermediate Periodisation Model

  • 12 Weeks out: 5 sets x 3-5 Rep @ 50X0
  • 11 Weeks out: 4 sets x 3-5+1 Rep @ 50X0 (+1 = Eccentric Only with 5-10% extra weight)
  • 10 Weeks out: 1,5,1,5,1,5 reps @ 50X0 (Singles @ 10-0X0)
  • 9 Weeks out: 1,4,1,4,1,4 reps @ 50X0 (Eccentric Hooks on singles only @ 10-0X0)
  • 8 Weeks out: 8 sets x 1 rep @ 80X0
  • 7 Weeks out: 5-8 sets x 1 rep @ 80X0 (Eccentric Hooks)
  • 6 Weeks out: 3,3,3,5,5,5 @ 40X0
  • 5 Weeks out: 3,3,5,5 @ 40X0
  • 4 Weeks out: 5 x 4-6 @ 30X0 (X-Reps on Each Set)
  • 3 Weeks out: 4 x 3-5 @ 30X0 (X-Reps on Each Set)
  • 2 Weeks out: 5,4,3,2,1 @ 20X0
  • 1 Week out: 5,4,3,2,1 @ 20X0
  • Peak/Competition/Testing Day

Advanced Periodisation Model

  • 12 Weeks out: 5 sets x 1 rep @ 20-0X0 (3 x 5 sec pauses during eccentric)
  • 11 Weeks out: 4-5 sets x 1 rep @ 20-0X0 (3 x 5 sec pauses, eccentric only)
  • 10 Weeks out: 10 sets x 1 rep @ 10-0X0
  • 9 Weeks out: 5-8 sets x 1 rep @ 10-0X0 (Eccentric Hooks)
  • 8 Weeks out: 10 sets x 1 rep @ 50X0
  • 7 Weeks out: 5-8 sets x 1 rep @ 50X0 (Eccentric only)
  • 6 Weeks out: 2,2,2,3,3,3 @ 40X0
  • 5 Weeks out: 2,2,3,3 @ 40X0
  • 4 Weeks out: 5 (1-1-1-1-1) reps @ 30X0 (Rest Pause 10 seconds)
  • 3 Weeks out: 5 (1-1-1-1-1) reps @ 30X0 (Rest Pause 10 seconds)
  • 2 Weeks out: 3,2,1,3,2,1 @ 20X0
  • 1 Week out: 3,2,1,3,2,1 @ 20X0
  • Peak/Competition/Testing Day

Note the principle of the dissipation of the eccentric tempo as you near competition/peak/testing day. This is a warranted principle to let the reins off so to speak. You want to lift naturally with the strongest tempo possible. The 20X0 is essentially arbitrary and used simply to explain this principle. For instance in a deadlift you might resort to a tempo of X2X1 to drop the deadlift to the floor with no eccentric tension whatsoever.

An alternative method should you wish to still follow your own periodisation models is to add 1-2 x sets at the end of a session, whilst still structuring it within the above principles:

  • 12 Weeks out:
  • 11 Weeks out: 1-2 x sets of Eccentric only after your strength work and before assistance
  • 10 Weeks out:
  • 9 Weeks out: 1-2 x sets of Eccentric only after your strength work and before assistance
  • 8 Weeks out:
  • 7 Weeks out: 1-2 x sets of Eccentric only after your strength work and before assistance
  • 6 Weeks out:
  • 5 Weeks out:
  • 4 Weeks out:
  • 3 Weeks out:
  • 2 Weeks out:
  • 1 Week out:
  • Peak/Competition/Testing Day

The eccentric hooks/weight releasers as mentioned within the example programs offer a great investment. They create a slingshot effect when changing from eccentric to concentric. You are creating so much tension (to stop a possible prolapse!) that when the hooks drop off you spring out of the bottom position with great speed akin to pulling an elastic band back and letting it go.

Conclusion

The question of what exactly is happening and why it works to improve maximal strength still has to be fully ratified. Roger Enoka’s view on eccentrics is that they have a different effect on the nervous system than all other contractions.

So if you consider that using all contractions is akin to learning a language. Same language but learning different parts of that language:

  • Eccentric = Words
  • Isometric = Grammar
  • Concentric = Context

Other science supports the fact that hypertrophy occurs in the fibres/tendons/ligaments. Is it this mechanism that then allows for subsequent increases in strength?

Eccentrics also enable your Golgi tendon organs (the key holder to strength increases) to become used to the increase in tension to prevent the muscles shutting off. When you return to normal training with concentric then you can reach higher levels of fibre and motor unit activation leading to increases in strength levels. Golgi tendon organ is not just a protective mechanism but also helps with control of the movement.

Eccentric strength is an indicator for control of the weight. The greater the eccentric strength, the greater control. Greater control can instantly improve technique which can have an immediate effect in total strength. So if you, or your client has suboptimal technique then adding eccentrics in would be indicated as you can’t get strong with a poor motor pattern.

I know I am known in the strongman community but this has great application for sports performance enhancement. It is especially applicable for sports where decelerating strength qualities are needed (jumping, throwing, etc). As always, it should be included no closer than 6-8 weeks before competition as otherwise it can slow someone down. You must actualise the strength and rate of force development gains afterwards with appropriate training protocols.

My final thought is that the only constant is change. So if you haven’t used them in a while (or never?!) they’ll always create a new stimulus for your nervous system to adapt to. Using my protocols and principles above will lead you to new levels of strength.

Bonus Tip: Invest in some Traumeel cream. It’s a homeopathic anti-inflammatory cream that I recommend for DOMS/muscle soreness. You’ll thank me later when it comes to trying to sit on the toilet for the first time after your eccentric squat session!

Article written by: Tom Hibbert

Published on: 25/2/2019

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