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Can Eccentric Training Increase Muscle & Strength?

November 06 2010

The meta-analysis (2009)  looked to see if eccentric training is superior to concentric training for strength & muscle mass.

Why eccentrics are different from concentrics?

image

Eccentrics involve active lengthening and concentrics involve active shortening of the muscle fibers

Characteristics of eccentric contractions

  • They can produce more force than concentrics. So you can use more weight than concentrics.
  • They selectively recruit Fast fibers. Fast fibers are bigger and have greater potential for growth than slow fibers
  • They recruit less fibers than concentrics and hence accumulate greater damage and greater protein synthesis ( and greater protein breakdown too , mind you).
  • The use very little energy and hence has very little metabolic fatigue
  • In contrast to concentric, higher velocity generates greater force in eccentrics.

What were the study highlights?

  • Meta-analysis: The study combines all the studies comparing eccentric exercise to concentric exercise into one big study.
  • High Quality:  As like any quality meta-analysis, the study had an inclusion and exclusion criteria, quality assessment of studies by independent reviewers, subgroup analysis based on contraction mode and speed of contraction and so on.
  • Included studies: After reviewing 66 studies, only 20 studies were included based on the inclusion and exclusion criteria.

What were the results of the meta-analysis?

  • Strength: Eccentric training is more effective at increasing eccentric strength than concentric training. The greater strength increase was only shown with higher eccentric intensity. But even training with higher eccentric intensity did not increase concentric strength.
  • Muscle: Eccentric training appears to be more effective at increasing muscle mass than concentric training. This increase was shown with both higher and comparable eccentric intensities. Some of the conflicting results are speculated to be because of the different methods of measurements used.
  • Velocity-Specific: Eccentric strength is highly specific to the velocity of training

Practical Applications

  • Adding a few sets of eccentric sets for the weaker body parts can be helpful. You can also add few weeks of eccentrics at the end of your training cycle too.
  • Eccentric for every exercise or bodypart will be extremely fatiguing and will negatively affect your recovery.
  • If you are into sport performance, training eccentric contraction at the velocity of the sport will be more helpful in improving eccentric strength

Reference 1

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FullDeplex | Sun November 07, 2010  

He! Some new information here!

It suprises me that concentric strength does not increase more by doing negatives, but muscle growth does. (although I can’t download the entire study, so it not clear to me yet if negatives are worth the impact on recovery)

Could you elaborate a bit more on ‘Velocity-Specific’? And maybe tell us how big the actual effect on muscle growth was?

Anoop | Mon November 08, 2010  

Hi FullDuplex,

It is just the theory of specificity. The neural adaptations to concentric and eccentric are very different. And concentric strength always increase with eccentric training but didn’t reach significance compared to eccentric strength.

The velocity effect is same as the specificity principle suggests. The studies have used both CSA measures, MRI,Ultrasound, CT scans and so on. It is usually around 5-10% increase. And it is hard to extrapolate MRI and CT scan measurements to real world results. This is one of the problems of using a p-value.

FullDeplex | Mon November 08, 2010  

ok, because it seemed, when I read the study abstract, like they also looked at the speed of eccentric contractions and its effect on muscle growth. But this is not the cause, right?

5-10% increase…..hmmm. (and yes: hard to extrapolate to real world)  Guess I need to figure out by personal experimentation if it is worth the recovery issues.

Anoop | Mon November 08, 2010  

Hi

They looked the speed of contraction and it’s effect on strength. They didn’t look at muscle growth though. Studies looking at speed of contraction and muscle growth showed high eccentric velocity to be better.

The problem with these studies is that they are looking at one muscle group like quads or elbow flexors for 4-8 weeks. In the real world, people do full body workouts. So do eccentrics for your weaker body parts or at the end of the cycle. It is just another way to increase loading.

I wasn’t really sure about eccentrics until this review.  The hard part is what the heck is 5-10% increase in a n MRI or CT scan for adding visible changes in your arm. It probably might show in the long term hopefully.

FullDeplex | Mon November 08, 2010  

You bring up good points. I also thought about these issues.

I saw a few studies that looked at the speed of eccentric contractions and its effect on muscle growth, but in all studies the researchers increased the weight with the speed of lowering. Did you find a study that did only change the speed factor? A meta-analysis perhaps?

Anatoly | Mon November 08, 2010  

Arni on photo looks on us and asks:
DO YOU USE ECCENTRIC?
smile

Anoop | Mon November 08, 2010  

There are a few studies which just looked at eccentric speed and muscle growth. I d’n't think there is a meta-analysis though. I think most of the studies I came across show faster eccentrics were better.

1. The effects of eccentric and concentric training at different velocities on muscle hypertrophy.
2. Short-term high- vs. low-velocity isokinetic lengthening training results in greater hypertrophy of the elbow flexors in young men.
3. Adaptation to chronic eccentric exercise in humans: the influence of contraction velocity.

Maybe bad form isn’t that bad!

And it is high time that exercise studies used confidence intervals than just p-values, especially when we have such samll sample sizes.

Hi Anatoly,

I love that picture of Arnold. Arnold is not showing off his muscles, but you can’t help saying “look at those shoulders and arms”. He is like didn’t I tell you this 20 yrs back that it works LOL

Karky | Sun November 14, 2010  

Good article. One thing, thought. Eccentric contractions selectively recruiting fast twitch fibers is only shown in 1 out of 10 studies. However, that one study is the only one you ever hear about.
Here’s a review:
Can fast-twitch muscle fibres be selectively recruited during lengthening contractions? Review and applications to sport movements.
http://pdfserve.informaworld.com/260766_751312965_791968860.pdf

Bill | Mon November 15, 2010  

Anoop, I’m thinking that it’s as much that ‘roids worked for Arny.

Anoop | Mon November 15, 2010  

Hi Karky,

Thanks for the comment. I might have to read it and see what they have to say.

Hi Bill,

Roids are better than eccentric. Arnie knew it long back LOL

Bill | Mon November 15, 2010  

Combine eccentrics WITH ‘roids and you look like Arnold in that pic. He’s an admitted steroid user and that, combined with the very hard work (hard work that steroids allowed him to do), is why he looked like that. It’s not from the extra 5-10% that he may have squeaked out using only eccentrics. Negatives are probably effective, but become more so with hormonal assistance.

Anoop | Mon November 15, 2010  

Hi Bill,

That was a joke, Bill. You didn’t get it.

He doesn’t have to admit it. Everyone knows it LOL

Bill | Tue November 16, 2010  

Yep, missed it.

What do you think?

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