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Bust through plateaus with eccentrics

Experienced lifters can overcome plateaus by using eccentric training.

“This is no magic pill that will suddenly create huge differences over systematic hard work. smart periodization, and nutrition; but it can give a boost or kick start to overcoming a plateau in strength and muscle mass development;” says Dr. Simon Walker, a researcher involved in a recent study to determine the effects of accentuated eccentric training.

An adequate description of eccentric training is the downwards motion of any lift in the gym.

An eccentric contraction comprises of lowering the weight when the muscle lengthens under tension. It is one of three distinct phases when you train with weights. The other two are a concentric contraction (contracting) and an isometric contraction when there is no movement.

Remarkable results

Walker was part of a group of scientists at the Department of Biology of Physical Activity at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland who conducted a ten week experiment where experienced male strength athletes used eccentric load training with remarkable results. After the fifth week on the programme the scientists observed an increase of force production, work capacity, muscle activation and resistance in the eccentric loading group compared to other two groups who followed a normal resistance training routine.

“It was clear that the force production capacity during eccentric actions was not being utilized during traditional training,” says Walker.

“This information could be used to modify people’s training methods and perhaps highlight contemporary training methods that can be included and periodized into training regimes. This can range from patient groups to the elderly right through to athletes.”

Good evidence

Walker adds: “There are lots of unresolved issues still, such as how eccentric training may affect recovery, frequency, and also whether training intensity and volume should be adjusted to better suit the individual. Nevertheless, this study alone gives good evidence that athletes can work on a problematic area, for example to develop strength and muscle mass, by using this method when stagnation has occurred.”

Eccentric training was first discovered way back in 1882 by Adolf Fick who realised that contracting muscle under stretch could produce greater force than shortening a muscle contraction. Scientists also found that the human body had a lower energy demand during an eccentric muscle contraction than during the concentric phase of the same action.

In 1953 Erling Asmussen first introduced eccentric training as “excentrics” with the ex meaning “away from” and centric meaning “center”. Hence, the term was coined to mean a muscle contraction that moves away from the center of the muscle.

* By Werner Beukes, Editor, Muscle Evolution

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