The power of eccentrics for strength gains

Eccentric strength isn’t the weird and wacky black sheep of the exercise family, it’s the term given to the lowering phase of an exercise. The lowering of the deadlift, the descent of the dumbbells in a press or the controlled drop into the hole on a squat are all examples of the eccentric portion of a lift or exercise.

Because the eccentric part of any lift tends to be stronger than the concentric, ie. you can control more load on the descent than on the push/pull, you can use this to increase your strength in areas that are falling behind, or to build back up after injury. Assuming of course you’ve been cleared by a physio!

Here are 3 of my favourite exercises to use a different eccentric path to the concentric to help you build more strength.

TRX row to T

The TRX T is an awesome exercise to target the mid back – the mid and lower traps, the rhomboids and rear delts. An area that most people miss and one that is key to maintaining good posture. The problem is that because most people don’t train these muscles, they can’t do a T with enough body angle to provide a load that is of any value. If you are too upright there just isn’t enough load going through these muscles to force adaptation.

If you get into a position where you can perform the lowering of the T (from arms outstretched down to in front of you) you can use the humble TRX row to pull yourself up to the start point in order to repeat the movement.

Start with 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps, stopping the set if you are unable to maintain control throughout the lowering.

Chest fly to press

This is a variation I saw on Ben Brunos IG page. Great if you have a shoulder issue that might stop you from doing the chest fly normally. But by bringing the elbows into your torso and pressing the weight back up to the start point, you take the stress off the shoulder and into the triceps and chest.

This is also a good finisher if you fancy a good chest pump and enjoy the burn…

Rolling triceps extension

The rolling triceps extension is an exercise I’ve used in my own training and for clients for a couple of years now. It’s a great way to overload the triceps with eccentric loading while still being able to reset the start position while using heavier loads than you might otherwise.

Start with the DB held above the chest, then maintaining a vertical upper arm, control the weights down to the side of your head, let them roll behind you as you brinfg your elbows to your head. Then effectively do a db pull over to bring your elbows to your ribs, then you have a close grip press to get the weight back to position. Make sure you set up with your head off the end of the bench to make space for the DBs.

You get a great load in your triceps, you also get the added bonus of a bit of T spine extension as you let the weights roll back. A sneaky bonus that my clients haven’t noticed, which combined with other T spine drills help maintain good posture.

Other applications

While these three are the options I regularly use in my clients’ training, you can use the principle in other ways. For example, using both legs to raise the load on a leg press, then controlling the eccentric with just one. Useful for building the quads back up after an injury. Or in Achilles tendon rehab where heavy eccentrics have been shown to help align scar tissue orientation after a tear.

Learning to develop eccentric control is a key part of your training, use it wisely!

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