Why Upper-Body Eccentrics Are an Awesome Way to Build Muscle and Protect Against Injury

Eccentric exercise training is a great tool to develop foundational strength and tendon stiffness in athletes.

Eccentric exercise training is a great tool to develop foundational strength and tendon stiffness in athletes.

Eccentric movement, in its simplest form, is the reverse muscle action to concentric movement. Concentric movement is what we all think of when we think of lifting weights. For example, during a Bicep Curl, the concentric movement is the actual "curl" part. The eccentric movement is the lowering down of the weight to return to the starting position. Pretty simple, right?

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Eccentric exercise training is a great tool to develop foundational strength and tendon stiffness in athletes.

Eccentric movement, in its simplest form, is the reverse muscle action to concentric movement. Concentric movement is what we all think of when we think of lifting weights. For example, during a Bicep Curl, the concentric movement is the actual "curl" part. The eccentric movement is the lowering down of the weight to return to the starting position. Pretty simple, right?

The picture above is from the work of Cal Dietz. The red is the eccentric movement, and the blue is the concentric movement. The bottom of the "V" or transition point is the amortization phase, which is also known as the isometric phase.

Training eccentric movement is a lot more complex than just "slowing down." Its main premise is time-under-tension, or TUT. TUT guidelines vary depending on who you talk to, however the idea behind TUT is that the longer you provide a stimulus (length and tension) on the muscle-tendon unit (MTU), the stronger and more robust it will become. This is important not only for sport performance and muscle size, but also for injury prevention.

Research shows people can handle significantly greater loads during an eccentric movement than the corresponding concentric movement. For example, you might be able to Back Squat 400 pounds concentrically (which is normally the numbers we refer to when talking about our PRs). But if you can squat 400 pounds concentrically, you can likely handle up to 120% of that, or 480 pounds, eccentrically.

The main point of this article is not to dive into the mechanisms of eccentric training. Rather, this article will outline some eccentric-focused movements you can implement right now in your training. If you are looking for resources to better understand eccentric training and the plethora of benefits it can offer, check out the work done by Cal Dietz and Charles Poliquin. They can explain it much better than I can. But the short version is that eccentric training can help you get stronger, build more muscle and became more resistant to injury.

A lot of the following recommendations will help build posterior upper-body strength in overhead athletes. The target population for this type of training is baseball pitchers, hitters, swimmers, tennis athletes, javelin throwers, or any other sport involving an overhead action. However, this type of training can benefit athletes of all sports.

The idea behind developing eccentric strength in the posterior upper body for throwers stems from the idea that if you can accept more force eccentrically, you can transmit more force concentrically (similar to Cal's picture above). Another theory says that improving this strength can help you push boundaries in concentric overhead movement or speed (i.e., throw faster). These exercises can be accomplished using submaximal (<100%1RM), maximal (100% 1RM), or supramaximal loads (>100% 1RM). Remember, you can move more weight in the eccentric than the concentric, meaning supramaximal loads are in play here. For the sake of this article, supramaximal eccentrics will be discussed.

This idea was sparked by a conversation I recently had with Bill Miller, Chicago-area baseball strength coach. Side note: All great ideas are usually sparked by conversations with other people that share the same interest as you, but have different experiences. Seek out those people!

Below are videos of each exercise I think will provide the most bang for your buck in overloading the eccentric component in the posterior upper body. You'll notice most include the use of a second hand to support the concentric, which is extremely important. Remember, we're focusing on the eccentric here, and we're often using more than your 1RM!

I hope you found this article worth the read! If you enjoyed it, please feel free to share it on social media, and if you have any more questions, feel free to give me a follow and send me a direct message on Instagram @strength2.speed.

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Topics: UPPER BODY | BUILD MUSCLE | INJURY PREVENTION | MAX OUT