If you are like most weight lifters, you have probably incorporated an eccentric emphasis into a workout from time to time, maybe adding an extra negative rep to your last set of bench press or barbell curls. People generally throw them in as an afterthought – a good way to get a little extra burn out of the set.
Utilizing these strenuous reps as a finisher is a good idea, but most people have no idea how to implement them regularly. I am here to tell you that you can make some serious strength gains in a short period of time by incorporating them into your entire workout plan.
In order to reap the benefits of eccentric training, we are going to apply them to all of the major compound lifts for 2 weeks at a time.
What is Eccentric Emphasis?
There are 3 main types of muscle contraction. The type of contraction that most people think of when it comes to strength is concentric, which is typically the “way up” of the movement when the muscle shortens. An isometric contraction occurs at a fixed position, and is the transition between the concentric and eccentric portion of the movement, and is what you are doing if you incorporate “pause reps” on the bench or squat. The eccentric contraction of the muscle is the type of activation that occurs as the muscle lengthens and opposes a greater force. This typically occurs on the lowering portion of the movement.
Let’s use two different exercises as examples: the bicep curl to illustrate the types of muscle contraction in a single joint, and a box jump to understand how the different types of contractions apply to a dynamic compound movement.
During a barbell curl, the bicep contracts concentrically as you curl the weight up and the bicep shortens or flexes. The isometric contraction occurs at the very top when the bicep is completely flexed and the angle at your inner elbow is at its smallest. The eccentric contraction of the bicep then occurs as you lower the weight under control back to the starting position.
Without the eccentric contraction – or with a weak one – the curl bar would just fall with gravity back down. This is a common mistake I see in the gym. Lifters struggle to curl a heavy weight to the top and then just let it fall, negating the benefits of the eccentric contraction.
When performing a box jump, the quadriceps lengthen eccentrically as you drop down into a squat to prepare for the jump. An isometric contraction occurs as your body momentarily stops and switches directions to begin the jump. Think of this portion of the movement as when tension builds in the muscle and the body is “loading up”.
Next, your quads begin to contract concentrically as you lift off the ground. Now here is the important part concerning eccentrics when considering sports performance: as you land on the box, it is the eccentric contraction of the quads that slows your momentum and stabilizes your body.A weak eccentric contraction is not going to allow you to “stick the landing” and will open you up to knee injuries as you get out of position and try to compensate.
Why Train with an Eccentric Emphasis?
So now that you understand the different types of muscle contraction, why is emphasizing the eccentric portion with heavy negatives important or useful?
Research has shown that more microscopic tears of the muscle occur during this portion of the movement. The body then repairs and builds new muscle fibers to support the damaged ones, thus leading to greater gains in strength. From a sports performance standpoint, a strong eccentric contraction is going to allow you to quickly slow your movement and change directions, crucial for any sport that requires running and jumping.
The Eccentric Workout
Ok, now the fun part – it’s time to dive into the programming and see what all the hype is about. This program is set up as a 5-day split.
Because of the amount of stress that eccentric emphasis reps place on the body and nervous system, you will have a great deal of delayed onset soreness, particularly during the first week. I recommend using this program as prescribed for 2 weeks at a time and then doing the program for 2 weeks without the negative reps.
Do not perform negatives on the big compound lifts (Squat, Front Squat, Chest Press) without a spotter. The weight should be heavy enough on the negatives – between 80-85% of your max – that you may need assistance on the way back up. After just 2 cycles through this program, you will be amazed at the increase in strength and the amount of stability – particularly in the lower body – you will feel during regular reps.
Weeks 1-2: Perform all negative reps as prescribed
Weeks 3-4: Perform the program without the negatives
Week 5: Add the negatives back in
Weekly Workout Overview:
Monday: Legs, Back, and Biceps
Tuesday: Chest, Triceps
Friday: Legs, Back
Monday is essentially legs, back, and biceps, with eccentrics utilized on Front Squat, Pull-ups, rowing movements, curls, and reverse hyperextension. I know this deviate away from the whole “Monday is universal chest day” thing, but since Monday’s workout is much more strenuous from an energy and nervous system standpoint, it’s better to start the week this way.
It is important to note that although I personally consider deadlifts to be the most important exercise of this workout, I do not prescribe eccentric emphasis on it due to the risk of injury. It would be impossible to spot someone during a deadlift “heavy negative” in the same way you can on a front squat.
Tuesday is pushing movements, basically your chest and triceps day, with heavy negatives programmed on DB Bench and close grip bench. Make sure that during the triceps superset you want to go as heavy as possible for 5 reps and you will need to lower the weight slightly on the last round so you can complete 5 reps plus an additional 3 negatives on each station.
Rest day! It’s time to rest and refuel.
Thursday is shoulder day. DB Presses and Shrugs are your big heavy movements. Just like the triceps superset from Tuesday, during the shoulder superset you want to go as heavy as possible for 5 reps, and you will need to lower the weight slightly on the last round so you can complete 5 reps plus an additional 3 negatives on each station.
Friday is time for Legs and Back again, but this day the focus is on Back Squat and Split Squat.
Saturday is a bodyweight day that focuses on the pecs, triceps, and core. Start with the first exercise and do multiple sets of max reps until 100 reps total is reached. On the last rep of EVERY set perform one 6-second negative. Once you have reached 100 reps, it’s time to move on to the next exercise.