An eccentric muscle contraction is defined by the American College of Sports Medicine as “Production of force while the muscle is lengthening (i.e., resisting the movement).” To the weekend warrior looking to improve how they look and feel, this means resisting or slowly returning the weight to the start of the movement. This has also been refered to as negatives or negative training.
When a full repetition of an exercise is completed in a slow and controlled way, you are forcing your muscle to work twice as hard, which will in turn help you to grow faster. How does this happen?
When you work out you cause microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. With adequate rest and nutrition, the muscle fibers repair and regenerate themselves, allowing them to handle future rounds of similar work while experiencing much less damage. What does this mean to you? It means you become bigger and stronger. By progressively forcing your muscles to do more and more work over time, this repairing process will repeat and your muscles will continue to grow and get stronger.
It is when you perform these eccentric contractions correctly, that cause greater stress and damage to the muscle tissue. This damage is usually followed by DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), the soreness you feel for the next couple of days. If you have ever had a really tough leg workout, you know the pain that can be experienced by simply walking down a flight of stairs or trying to sit in a chair.
How can you encorporate this style of training into your workouts? Begin by choosing one exercise per body part, choose a weight that will allow to perform each rep with perfect form at a slower pace, and set the number of reps you want to meet. Your goal is to reach temporary muscle fatigue, not complete exhaustion.
For example lets look at the squat. Begin by lowering yourself to parallel as slowly as possible or for a count of 5 and hold it for a second. Once you reach parallel, then explode back to the top as you would normally. After just a few reps you will see just how tough this style of exercise is, but the rewards are worth it.
Eccentric muscle contractions, when performed correctly, can help you make progress that you didn’t think was possible. Allow your body adequate time to recover between workouts, eat well, and you will see the results you are looking for.