You can, of course, prolong the eccentric phase of a movement to be greater than five seconds; it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, and you will recruit more muscle fibers and thus likely build more muscle the longer you stay in the eccentric phase, says Fagin. But, she caveats, from a practical standpoint you probably don’t want to hold the eccentric portion of a move for too long (like, 10 seconds or more). That’s simply because it would take up a large chunk of your workout, and you might not have that much time to devote to one exercise.
2. Start simple.
While you can do eccentric training with pretty much any exercise, Fagin recommends starting with three simple moves if you want to add in some in purposefully: the push-up, the squat, and the overhead press. You might already know how to do these exercises, and turning them into eccentric-focused moves just requires making a few small tweaks.
To do an eccentric push-up, start in a high plank and then slowly bend your elbows to lower yourself down over the course of three to five seconds. Once you’re at the bottom of the movement, let yourself gently fall to the ground. Then, get back into the high plank position (you can drop to your knees to do so) and repeat. The cool thing about an eccentric push-up is that it’s actually less advanced than a regular push-up, and you can do it as a way to build up the strength you need to nail a regular push-up, says Fagin.
To do an eccentric overhead press, stand with your feet hip-width apart and dumbbells or kettlebells at your shoulders. Lift your weights overhead at a regular pace, and then slowly lower them down over the course of three to five seconds before repeating.
3. Drop some weight.
If you’re performing eccentric exercises with weight, you’ll probably need to use lighter weights than you would if you were doing the move at a regular tempo. That’s because the slow pace of eccentric training puts your muscles under tension for a longer amount of time, and as a result they might not be able to handle the same amount of weight they typically can. As a rule of thumb, Fagin recommends dropping your weight about 5 to 10 pounds for eccentric training. Say, for example, you normally squat with a 20-pound kettlebell. For an eccentric squat, you’d want to use a 15 or even 10-pound kettlebell.
As you experiment to find the right weight for you, make sure your technique stays solid. “Never let your form be sacrificed by the weight,” says Fagin. So if you swap your 15-pound dumbbells for 5-pounders and the move still feels too challenging, go even lighter. Or, perform the move with just your bodyweight. Remember, form always comes first.
4. Prioritize recovery.
Important fact about eccentric training: It can increase delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—that soreness you feel up to 72 hours after a tough workout—in a big way. That’s because in eccentric actions, the weight placed on the muscles is greater than the amount of force produced by the muscles. This imbalance creates more microscopic damage to the muscle compared to concentric training.
So if you do eccentric training, it’s especially important to prioritize recovery afterward so that your muscles can have the downtime and support they need to build back stronger. For Fagin, that recovery includes hydrating, foam rolling, eating protein (which helps with muscle repair and growth), and sleeping. Fagin also recommends waiting 48 to 72 hours before you train the same muscles eccentrically again; that ensures your muscles have enough time to recover.
5. Incorporate it in moderation.
Yes, there are a ton of benefits to eccentric training. But it’s also a more physiologically exhausting form of exercise, and not something that most of us should do all workout, every workout.
The “right” amount of eccentric training varies from person to person and depends, in part, on your goals and how many days a week you typically strength train. In general, though, Fagin says doing eccentric training one to two days a week could be a good addition to your routine. Oh, and when you pencil in eccentric training, make sure it doesn’t take over your entire workout. Again, “your body can only take so much of that eccentric work,” explains Fagin, who recommends doing eccentric moves for a portion of your workout—for example, as your main set—before moving onto other types of training and activities.
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