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When you use dumbbells, do you put more effort into lifting or lowering them? Most likely, you concentrate on lifting, which is called the concentric phase of the muscle’s contraction. Think of a bicep curl. When we curl the weight up towards the shoulder, our bicep muscle shortens. When we lower the weight back down, the bicep lengthens, which is called the eccentric contraction. The vast majority of people let gravity or momentum take over, which is a big mistake.

By focusing on the eccentric (lowering) phase of a lift, we can unlock the true strength potential of our muscles. Here are some of the basic benefits of eccentric training:

  1. Eccentric contractions allow us to handle more resistance than the concentric phase. This phenomenon of lowering heavier weight in the eccentric phase will in turn cause greater neural adaptations in the muscle fibers that will benefit the concentric strength of a muscle. By becoming stronger on the way down, this can help you become stronger when lifting.
  2. Eccentric training blasts through any plateaus. Emphasizing the eccentric (lowering) phase changes how your muscles adapt and will lead to increases in muscle size and strength.
  3. Eccentric training is an excellent way of reducing the risk of injury. Again, the eccentric contraction creates more tension on the muscles than concentric contraction. This increased tension strengthens not only our muscles but ligaments and tendons as well. Strong tendons and ligaments are crucial for injury prevention.

So here’s how you do it: On the lowering phases of a lift ( bicep curl, squat, lunge, or bench press) aim to control the weight on the way down for a 5 second count. Control is key; don’t let gravity or momentum do the work! By the 6th rep (out of 10) you should feel the burn and barely be able to lift the weight back up on your own.  This means you have done it correctly.

Even if you don’t have dumbbells and barbells, you can try eccentric push-ups, squats, single-leg lunges and pull-ups. You’ll feel the difference almost immediately!

by Rory McDermott, HealthEase Fitness Professional