Concentric/Eccentric Lifting

Since hearing some ideas from Julien Pineau of StrongFit and others about concentric loading during lifting, I’ve been experimenting with these ideas in my workouts. Here’s a brief summary of what I’ve found.

We’ve known for decades that Olympic lifters in Bulgaria often train 6 days a week with 2 sessions a day. All this while the Western world talks about the dangers of overtraining. While not an easy program to follow, there is a reason why they can do this and survive. First of all, the book Squat Every Day by Matt Perryman will change your life. It goes way beyond squatting every day but into many other outside-the-box ideas. He and others have taken the Squat Every Day philosophy to the nth degree and have gone months and years of squatting every day. I myself have taken one to two months a year for the past 5 years of squatting every day. It does wonders for your body. You adapt super quickly and its totally possible to do that kind of hard work every day. You ask how?

The muscles in our body are made up of many types of fibers. If you think about striated heart muscle fibers, they were made to pump over and over throughout our lifetime. So overtraining the heart is not something we usually talk about. Muscles in our legs and hips are made to do amazing things. We were Born to Run as the book says. Endurance athletes have gone nonstop in 72 hour events. Yes, that’s probably in the realm of overtraining, but it tells you about what the body is capable of doing. You can squat every day and grow! And you can do that sustainably.

So back to the Bulgarian weightlifters—a part of their program was squatting. So we’ve explored that. What about all the heavy lifting they do with the Olympic snatch and clean & jerk? That’s the beauty of bumper plates. Being able to drop a barbell from overhead changes everything. Olympic lifting is largely concentric. The only part that might be eccentric is catching the weight and lowering into a squat. Actually, if you don’t go super heavy or just do "powers", you can completely avoid the eccentric load (lengthening fibers). The eccentric is where most of our soreness or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) occurs. The concentric can largely avoid DOMS. If you make it a study of kinetic energy, the ground is where the action potential is zero, whereas the highest point is maximum action potential with stored energy. But instead of lowering the weight in a controlled way, you drop it. This avoids the eccentric load completely. So this is the main reason why the Bulgarian method allows for such work volume.

So here is a summary:
1). You can Squat every day because of how leg and hip muscles work.
2). Concentric loading, like in Olympic lifting, reduces the possibility of DOMS.

I teach yoga and in order to teach yoga, you have to be able to demonstrate poses. If I do a lot of bench presses and pushups the day before a class, I could be so wiped out that I couldn’t even demonstrate poses. So I avoid chest work and eccentric loading the day before I teach. But what I Do, Do, is lots of concentric work. I no longer take a rest day the day before I teach. And its been amazing.

Here are some Concentric exercises that I do:
-Olympic lifting with no lowering of weight.
-Lots of strongman work–
-soft stone over the shoulder throws
-farmer carries and stone carries
-axle lifts with dropping
-One-arm Kettlebell lifts with assisted lowering (a little eccentric but OK)
-Pullups and drop with a mat underneath – no eccentric lowering
-Box jumps with easy step downs (little eccentric)

Some exercises I would like to add with more equipment are sled drags. You can pull a sled with arms or driving with legs. Pineau does this a lot. It can totally kill your body without a lot of after effects.

Conversely, in the days after I teach yoga, I focus a lot on eccentrics. This is where you throw in old-school bodybuilding negatives, partials, and other time-under-tension type movements. Soreness isn’t something that is necessary for growth, but it is an indicator that you’ve done some muscle breakdown. So I don’t mind being a little sore from those workouts.

What are some of the best eccentric movements?:
-lunges (I can almost guarantee I’ll be sore from lunges)
-dumbbell or machine pec dec flyes
-any curls focusing on the negative
-pullups, again focusing on lowering
-leg curls or hyperextensions

So the list above for eccentrics are also the types of movements that I avoid on my concentric days. The other advantage of concentrics is that you can do those movements prior to a competition. Then you don’t hit the starting line with soreness.

I hope this jogs your mind and let’s you think about exploring these ideas for yourself. You don’t always have to be sore for growth. But there is a time and place for soreness when you want it.