Perfection comes with repetition and repetition is what creates the basis for greatness.
Every time you perform a set, what are you thinking about during each rep? Are you simply thinking about moving the weight from point A to point B or are you concentrating on how the muscle is feeling and responding to the stimulus you are providing it? If your answer to that question is that latter, then you know and understand the importance of each phase of the movement and more specifically, each phase of the repetition. Over the next few minutes let’s focus in on the eccentric phase of the repetition. I’ll go over some exercises that lend themselves very well to accentuating this part of the movement and describe how to execute them for maximum results.
Every exercise that involves lifting weights, be it free weights, machines, cables etc. has an eccentric phase. The eccentric phase of an exercise is the part of the repetition where the muscle under tension lengthens. Examples are, the lowering or descending movement on the bench press, the lowering of a bicep curl, and the lowering part during a pull-up.
What you will see described below just happens to be five of my favorite exercises that really emphasize the eccentric movement, but you can adapt and apply any of what I’m going to describe to just about any exercise.
1. Flat/Incline dumbbell Flyes
Execution: The eccentric (lowering) phase of a dumbbell fly should be slow and controlled and taken low enough so that the pecs and to a lesser degree, front deltoids, are stretched to a point where you can feel a deep stretching sensation in those two areas. Allow for your elbows to drop down and out in an arch type fashion, while keeping them in a slightly bent position. Once in the bottom position of the rep, lift your chest up to maximize the stretch and then return to the starting position following the exact same path raising the weight as you lowered it.
2. Wide Grip Overhand Pull Ups
Execution: If you’re not tall enough to reach the overhead pull-up bar by just standing there, find something to step up onto to grasp the bar. You don’t want to have to jump up to grab the bar overhead as a good grip is needed on this exercise to really emphasize the eccentric. Once you are locked in, simply allow your body to hang freely prior to performing your first rep. Once you have pulled yourself up once, this is where the fun begins. You now have two choices: you can retract your scapula on the way back down or you can roll them forward and open up the lats. When they are retracted, you’ll feel your rhomboids, teres major and minor, infra and supraspinatus and lower traps stretch out. When you roll your scapula forward, you’ll feel more pull on the latissimus dorsi from the insertion down around your hips up to where they originate just under your armpit. Either way you do it, allow for yourself to bottom out and hang for a second or two prior to engaging in the next rep.
3. Stiff-Legged Dead Lifts
Execution: One of the best overall hamstring mass builders has got to be the stiff-legged deadlift. You can easily handle a lot of weight when performing this exercise to really pack on the muscle. To accentuate the eccentric on stiff legs, here’s what you do. Place two 25 pound plates on the floor just in front of you and then place the balls of your feet up on them. By doing this you’re already stretching the hamstrings. Then from this position, slowly and in a very controlled manner, start tilting forwards at your hips while keeping your head up and back as straight as possible. As you descend down with the weight in hand (either barbell or dumbbells) try to push your glutes backward to exaggerate the stretch so that it also targets the origin of the hamstrings. If you don’t do this, you’ll probably only end up feeling the movement right behind your knees rather than the entire length of the hamstring. Keep descending as far as you can go until you feel that uncomfortable stretch, then when you’re there, dorsiflex your foot a little to add just a bit more stretch in there and then return to your starting position.
4. Preacher Curls
Execution: This exercise is easily one of the most incorrectly performed exercises for biceps that is out there. The reason for this is because the amount of weight being used is often times too much for the person to truly handle and the concentric phase of the exercise ends up becoming more important than the eccentric phase. This causes the trainee to shorten their range of motion at the elbow, lean forward and follow the weight with their upper body by rolling their shoulders forward and then begin the concentric phase with a big lean backwards which creates a fulcrum thereby eliminating the lever system that should be in play for this movement. Rather than allowing this to happen, lighten the weight and slowly lower it to a full extension at the elbow. Keep your shoulders back, maintain a relatively upright position throughout and pull with only your biceps and nothing else. One extra little tip here that might accentuate the eccentric even more so for you is to try pushing your hands out and away from your body when your elbows are fully extended. I have found there to be a little bit more of a stretch in the biceps when doing this.
5. Standing Calf Raises
Execution: If you want your calves to grow then you have to provide a stimulus unlike anything they are used to. Unfortunately for us, the calves can become very stubborn body parts to make grow due to the high demand put upon them each and every time we walk. For this reason, the eccentric is probably the most important phase of the repetition when training calves. You have to go as heavy as you possibly can when training calves and you have to really focus on stretching them out. They only get flexed when you walk or run but never stretched, so this is the stimulus you need to provide them with for growth to occur. Once you load up your weight, take the eccentric down nice and slow and bottom out as hard as you can. What I mean is really let those calves stretch out and stretch out hard. Wait for them to start feeling really uncomfortable before completing the concentric. I will even bounce sometimes at the bottom to add more stretch in, but be careful when you do that. You can also try angling your feet in or out as you stretch them to really hit all of the areas of the calf. If I were you, I would spend more time during your reps on the eccentric phase, say a 3-5 second descent and then follow that up with a nice explosive contraction.
So there you have it my friends, my five favorite exercises for accentuating the eccentric. Now, bear in mind, that this type of training is hard and painful and can lead to involuntary muscle failure prior to hitting your Max-OT 4-6 rep count. So to ensure that you are capable of hitting those numbers, make sure you’re sipping on your intra-workout shake consisting of Micronized Creatine Monohydrate, DGC, BCAA 4500 and Beta-X. This powerful muscle-building cocktail will ensure you train hard for the duration of the workout and give you that added energy to really focus on the time under eccentric tension as you blast through your sets!