Behind the Whiteboard: Eccentrics
In order to really understand movement and its objective at any given time, it’s helpful to understand that there are three basic types of movement.
- Isometric –> Static, constant muscle length and fixed joint angles (holding a plank)
- Eccentric –> Lowering, muscle lengthening (descent on a back squat)
- Concentric –> Rising, muscle shortening (ascent on a back squat)
This is what’s known as triphasic movement. We’re going to completely ignore one and three right now, and zero in on how we can get the most out of two, since one could argue that it’s the most “important” of the three. I put that in air quotes because it’s an absurd thought, that one aspect of complete movement is somehow better than the rest. That would be like saying the most important part of the human is the brain. Kind of, but it’s not like one could live without a beating heart, breathing lungs, or attached skin. So while it may not be the most important, per se, the eccentric component of a movement could be an area of easy improvement for you if you typically “crash” in all of your movements.
In the context of a back squat, crashing in the the eccentric portion is a common strategy to create momentum (descent) so that you can explode out of the bottom to produce greater contractional force on the way up, thus hitting a PR. It’s a very effective strategy for that purpose, but in doing so regularly, you’re skipping over very valuable ‘time under tension’ where we develop muscle and build strength. The eccentric affords us huge opportunity for those two outcomes. That’s exactly why we love to mix in tempo prescriptions ( @ 3131) and extended duration reps (1 + 1/4 front squats), because we’re taking advantage of time under tension and more time spent in the eccentric.
Some movements where greater attention to the eccentric will yield you more results from them are:
- Strict Overhead Press
- Bench and Floor Press
Ballistic and high velocity movements are not a major concern for eccentrics. In fact, it would run counter to the entire purpose and benefit of them which is to be explosive (cleans, snatches, kettlebell swings, etc), something you cannot do if you’re slowing yourself down just before take off.
Every phase of a movement is important, but the eccentric is often neglected in the name of load and speed. Pay a little more attention to you lowering, and you’ll begin to feel, move, and look better.