The Secret Weapon: Eccentric or Negative Training.
If you take a long, hard real look at training, there are no shortcuts. No seven minute abs, bigger biceps from vibrating dumbbells or muscle made with electric currents. Granted, there are the illegal options like vitamin S and PEDs, but no matter what the friendly personal trainer with the arms wider than his head says – they come with side effects. Women may look forward to Adam’s apples and facial hair, men can end up with small balls and big tempers.
The good news is that there are a few training tricks that can help you with faster gains without using illegal muscle medicine. I’m always on the lookout for them, and this principle is a pretty simple one, but it’s not used to its full potential by most. You can use this technique with almost any kind of exercise. And it can be used by beginners, and for more advanced lifters to break through plateaus.
First question, what the hell is it? According to ACSM (American Council of Sport Medicine), the Eccentric part of a movement is the phase of contraction when the muscle lengthens while still producing force. When the muscle shortens in contraction, it’s called the concentric phase. For example, take a pull-up. When you’re pulling yourself up to the bar, your biceps are shortening and contracting (concentric phase), and when you’re straightening your arms to get back to the start, your muscles are lengthening under tension (eccentric phase). There’s also isometric muscle action, but that’s when muscle is activated and force is developed, but no movement at the joint occurs. The isometric phase offers the least kind of muscle-growing potential, because it basically translates to flexing – there’s no real resistance. In life, you obviously have to be strong in all three phases as they’re used in different combinations for almost every movement you do.
So how can you use eccentric or negative training for faster gains? It uses basic muscle science to help you. Here’s a quick breakdown: you have three different kinds of muscle types:
A) Type 1: “slow twitch”. These are least powerful fibres, but they’re the ones best suited for stamina and endurance because they take the longest to fatigue.
B) Type 2: “fast twitch”. These are much stronger fibres, and are best for quick, explosive movements but they tire quickly.
C) Type 2B: “super-fast twitch”. The strongest muscle fibres, but also the quickest to fatigue. These are the ones that you recruit for your one rep maxes.
The last bit of basic supersize science: muscles are built when you spend time under tension. When you lift, you normally use mostly type 2 fibres. If you’re doing a set of 8 heavy bench press, you’ll probably find that you fail on the last one. But the trick is, you’ll most likely be able to do few more negative or eccentric reps where you only control the barbell on the way down to your chest, and spend more time with your muscles under tension. You’ll just need a spotter to help get it off your chest, and you’ll be using recruiting more of the type 2B fibres to help you do more negative reps. More time under tension equals more muscle growth. As long as you aren’t funnelling crap into your mouth, you’ll see quick results. It’s a great strategy to use in your programme, whether you want to break a plateau or amp up your gains.
PROS: Besides helping you to build more muscle mass and destroy plateaus, there’s a number of other advantages according to ACSM: it can improve muscle coordination and balance; increase strength in every joint’s full range of motion; increase strength across a variety of movement speeds; and increase muscle power and sport performance recovery from tendon related injuries.
CONS: Can make you very stiff with DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness); Requires a lot of discipline to take it slow and not count like a dodgy accountant.