My tip for the week is for anyone who has hit a wall in their strength and muscle gains:
Focus on the ECCENTRIC phase.
When performing an exercise, their are essentially two primary dynamic muscle contractions 1. Concentric:- in which the muscle shortens during contraction and 2. Eccentric:- in which the muscle lengthens under contraction. For example, the bicep curl:- when curling the bar up, you are contracting concentrically as the muscle shortens under load, as the bar is lowered in a controlled manner, the muscle contracts eccentrically as it lengthens.
This eccentric phase of muscle contraction is, in my opinion the most neglected element of most training programmes, and a big reason why we hit a wall with strength and muscle gains.
The fact is that controlling a weight in the eccentric phase (as opposed to just letting it drop), is just not as much fun as concentrically pushing as hard as we can. It’s also damn hard work, so we shy away from it. A key principle in strength development and muscle growth, is Time Under Tension (TUT) – you keep the muscle under tension with the optimal load, throughout the duration of a set, by focusing on control during the eccentric phase of the movement.
Another reality is that muscles produce considerably more force eccentrically than concentrically, so we can handle greater loads eccentrically. Body builders, power lifters and athletes often include eccentric training protocols into their routines, that involve lifting loads in excess of 100 percent of your concentric max strength. A spotter would for example help you lift a weight that you can’t handle concentrically in say a bench press, you will then lower the weight eccentrically for a count of 5, and then repeat.
Similarly, you can push a load with 2 legs concentrically and lower the load eccentrically with a single leg as in a leg press for example. If you are week in your pull-up, have a spotter help you to the top of the movement, and lower yourself to the bottom for a count of five. Research has shown that this type of training consistently produces increases in strength gains in both concentric and eccentric contractions. In addition it has strong applications in the development of speed and power and is effective in rehabilitation.
My advice is, in all your training, (unless you are on a specific power training protocol), control the eccentric phase of your movements by counting to 4 as the muscles lengthen under load. If you do decide to include a heavy eccentric training protocol for strength gains in which you lift more than 100 percent of your concentric max as described above, remember, this is an effective way of training, but can be very taxing on the body. Eccentric training does cause more muscle damage than concentric protocols (which plays a role in muscle growth through the remodeling process), and you run the risk of over reaching and over training, so I would not advise it for beginners. Also, start with one or two sets of 2 to 4 reps, and build up over time.