The conventional wisdom regarding the perils of eccentric training has been around since the days’ strength and conditioning was primarily influenced by the body-building culture. “I’ll get sore,” or, “I’ll get slower and tighter”. These myths are largely due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what eccentric training is and its benefits.
What is Eccentric Training?
Eccentric training is simply the focus on the lengthening of a muscle during the negative phase of the movement. The idea of it and its application needs to be updated and stay in sync with the current research.
Before, eccentric training was primarily viewed in gym terms and thought of as no more than the downward phase of the bicep curl or other weight training exercise. The truth is it’s much more complicated than that and much more important.
In the past, we’ve written extensively regarding the importance of deceleration training. To jump, you must perform a countermovement, or dip, first. The muscle that contracts during the jump lengthens beforehand.
Most sports are not one dimensional. Most involve cutting or changing directions constantly during a game and require such countermovements.
Another way to view an eccentric contraction is what the muscle does before it propels the body in a different direction. In other words, it lengthens just before it contracts to produce force much like the snapping of a rubber band. View eccentric training in those terms and you begin to understand its importance.
The Three Biggest Myths of Eccentric Training
I’ll get Too Sore
It is true muscle soreness, or DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness), is attributed to the eccentric phase of the movement, which is why athletic trainers will sometimes remove it.
For example, telling the athlete to drop the bar at the top of a deadlift. But understanding the importance of deceleration, you can see why excluding eccentric movements from an athlete’s program (especially during the offseason) can cause more harm in the long run.
One effective strategy is to include more eccentric training in the offseason, less in the preseason and possibly eliminating during the season itself. In other words, a few days of soreness during the offseason is well worth better performance and durability during the season.
I’ll get Slower & Tighter
Yes, the athlete may feel tighter, which may affect performance. But really, eccentric work is crucial to achieving optimal muscle length. That’s the problem with trying to break up movements in parts. Movement has to be taken as a whole. But the athletic trainer also needs to consider the athlete as well, and too much eccentric work can hinder performance.
The key is the find the sweet spot and prescribe just enough, taking into consideration how the athlete feels and the needs of their sport. Too much of one aspect without a balanced program and you risk injury to the athlete.
For example, always dropping the bar at the top of deadlifts will build strength in the hamstrings but may lessen the muscle’s length. Some research has concluded that muscle length does play a role in the risk of injury.
As we stated before, there are times during the season when you may want to protect the athlete from too much soreness, but just be sure to include a better-rounded program earlier in the training season.
I Must Train Slow To Reap Benefits of Eccentric Training
The correct way to look at this is by considering the speed of the sport. If, when on the field, court or ice, the athlete is moving fast in multiple directions, causing a rapid contraction and lengthening of their muscles, why should we believe that we should be training at a different velocity one hundred percent of the time? Yes, there are times when the athlete should train slow, but it shouldn’t account for a majority of their training.
Whether training youth athletics or adults, you can improve sports performance and develop a more durable athlete by including the right and right amount of eccentric training into a program. The key is to take into consideration the needs of the athlete along with where they are in their training program.
- Importance of eccentric actions in performance adaptations to resistance training. Dudley GA , Tesch PA , Miller BJ , Buchanan P . Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine [01 Jun 1991, 62(6):543-550]The
- Effects of Eccentric Contraction Duration on Muscle Strength, Power Production, Vertical Jump, and Soreness. Mike JN1, Cole N, Herrera C, VanDusseldorp T, Kravitz L, Kerksick CM., J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Mar;31 (3):773-786. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001675.