For decades, many athletes have used eccentric exercises to create extreme muscle stress. Modern science sheds light on the mechanism of action of this training technique and shows how to turn it on at full power. You must know this!
Many of you have probably heard that the eccentric phase of exercise has a tremendous effect on muscle hypertrophy. Let’s try to find out if it is worth slowing down the eccentric phase as much as possible in order to boost muscle growth and breakthrough the training plateau?
I started studying the mechanisms of skeletal muscle growth in my teens. After a dozen years, being a PhD with a considerable amount of academic research in my track record, I can confidently state that scientists have only opened the veil over the mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy activation. Moreover, they cannot say for sure what blocks hypertrophy during periods when you train as before, but do not get the desired result.
Fortunately, we are constantly learning new things. Today, we know more than ever about the mechanisms that can cause training plateaus in athletes who previously gained muscle mass without problems. In particular, we are convinced that specific cells in our body, known as satellite cells, are involved.
These little detonators of hypertrophy are in muscle tissue and are waiting in the wings. I’ll show you how to detonate them with an optimal eccentric load. I am also going to tell you why you should not stretch the eccentric phase of the exercise for more than a few seconds.
The benefits of eccentric training
Many of you know that in any exercise there are two phases: concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering the apparatus). Both phases trigger muscle hypertrophy, but they do so by activating various mechanisms.
For example, the concentric phase of the lift is more likely to provoke metabolic stress, and therefore I recommend that athletes shift the emphasis to the concentric component in certain types of training, in particular during training with blood flow restriction ( occlusion training, or BFR training).
However, studies have shown that eccentric stretching stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than a concentric contraction. What is the reason for this? Scientists have found that eccentric contraction stimulates the release of a chemical called phosphatidic acid, which activates muscle protein synthesis.
Recently, a study was completed that showed that simply washing muscle cells with phosphatidic acid causes them to increase muscle protein synthesis. And, anticipating your question, yes, we’ve also found that taking phosphatidic acid increases muscle growth.
But this chemical reaction is only one of the mechanisms of action of eccentric training. The other, as mentioned earlier, is associated with the activation of satellite cells. These unique cells are located outside the muscles and in response to damage to nearby structures transform into immature muscle fibers. Moreover, they migrate to the damaged area, merge with the muscles and become part of them.
The result will be an increase in muscle fiber volume and the integration of satellite cell nuclei into muscle tissue. The latter is of tremendous importance since it is the cell nucleus that is responsible for stimulating muscle protein synthesis and skeletal muscle growth. The more nuclei in your muscles, the higher their growth potential.
Sounds convincing, doesn’t it? Indeed, scientists have shown that athletes facing a training plateau cannot properly activate satellite cells. To unblock this critical cell population and boost growth, you must maximize eccentric loading. Now let’s talk about how to do it.
Find the perfect beat
Having learned about the power of eccentric training, athletes began to slow down the eccentric phase to the point of absurdity – sometimes up to 5 seconds or more – in the hope that this technique would lead them to sky-high hypertrophy. And although there was a certain logic in their actions, they did not manage to get to the gold mine.
Experiments have shown that faster eccentric movements stimulate growth factor secretion, satellite cell activation, and muscle protein synthesis to a greater extent than slower eccentric movements. It seems strange, but it’s true. Let me explain.
Many of you know that in order for muscle contraction, the contractile protein myosin must bind to actin through the so-called “cross” bridges. The more transverse bridges you form in your muscles, the less stress on each individual bridge – and the less damage to muscle tissue.
The reason for the inconsistency of slow movement in the eccentric phase lies in the fact that the body gets more time to form cross bridges. The result will be less damage, decreased protein synthesis, and slower muscle hypertrophy.
Therefore, I do not recommend stretching the eccentric phase to fanaticism. For example, if you train your arms, lower the weight for no longer than 1-3 seconds.
How to make the most of the eccentric phase
You’ve probably heard that you are stronger in eccentrics than in concentric phase. This is an important point, but how to make him work for your good?
Scientists conducted the following experiments. The lifters lifted one-rep maximum in a concentric contraction and then performed an eccentric exercise with the same working weight. There was no difference in muscle growth rates. Some experiments have even pointed out the advantage of concentric contraction under these conditions!
Therefore, if you shift the emphasis to the eccentric component of the movement while using the same weight as the concentric contraction, you probably won’t notice any difference. The weight must be higher!
There are many ways to raise the eccentric load. The classic method is forced negative reps. A buddy helps you lift more than your 1RM and you lower it yourself. The second way is to lift the weight with two hands (or legs) and lower it with one.
For example, when doing leg curls in the machine, lift the weight with two legs and lower it with one leg.
Eccentric training that meets expectations
Finally, this article on high-intensity training is not for everyone, and even if it works for you, it may not always be useful. So let’s summarize and meet your expectations.
- The main reason for the training plateau is the athlete’s inability to activate satellite cells. These cells are stimulated by extreme stress during the eccentric phase of movement.
- To create maximum eccentric load, use a controlled but relatively short eccentric phase, 1-3 seconds maximum. Anything that lasts longer prevents muscle damage and inhibits subsequent growth.
- Forced negatives can enhance protein synthesis and muscle growth. However, it is very important not to overuse this technique and use it periodically, as it leads to significant damage to muscle tissue. Use it no more than once a week for the target group that needs maximum exercise.