The purpose of this blog is to cover eccentric training as well as to go over our in-house study which strictly covers the acceleration phase of the big 3 lifts using a combination of slow eccentrics and overspeed eccentrics.
It is not unheard of to take an athlete through an Eccentric block, phase, or period of time. To make this blog post as unbiased as possible I will touch on a few key reasons why most coaches train their athletes eccentrically at some point during their training.
Deceleration. Athletes can eccentrically lower substantially more weight then they can concentrically lift. Asking an athlete to eccentrically lower this weight extremely slow correlates to an athlete doing an eccentric movement during their performance (sport) and teaches the athlete to “decelerate better” in hopes of avoiding the possible risk of injury in the midst of their performance. Unfortunately, most sports do not stop on a dime and decelerate eccentrically without ever accelerating concentrically again. Just to name a few, Football, Track and field, Baseball, Soccer, Basketball, at no point do these sports require an athlete to decelerate and just stay where they are at the point of deceleration. There is always a concentric movement immediately following the eccentric muscle action during performance. For example, a basketball player goes up for a slam dunk, immediately after he lets go of the rim and lands on the floor (eccentric) he doesn’t stay in a low squat. The athlete would hit the floor, overcome his eccentric muscle action with a concentric phase either laterally, forwards, or backwards depending on where he decided to go following the play. Another example would be a football player. Lets say the running back found a gap on the line and is accelerating full force into this gap, notices a defender and avoids this tackle by stopping on a dime (eccentric) and cutting laterally (concentric) to change directions and continue downfield. This is known as reversal strength described as an eccentric muscle action immediately overcome by a concentric muscle action as fast as the athlete possibly can. My last example will be a baseball player, specifically a pitcher’s “lead leg block.” The glute and hamstring are eccentrically loaded in the lead leg just before the front foot comes in contact with the ground. When the foot comes in contact, the hamstring absorbs most of the force and is immediately overcome by a concentric muscle action in order to stop the athletes force and basically catapult his upper half over his lead leg for an efficient transfer of power. With this information it is not biased to say that any athlete regardless of sport does not need to focus on the eccentric portion alone during training (especially an entire block) but rather reversal strength. Simply put, is it more important to absorb? Or, more important to absorb and than contract?
Tissue Remodeling. When a muscle is eccentrically stretched it is simultaneously contracting. Just thinking about that type of muscle action, it doesn’t sound very safe to load that tissue with more weight than you can lift concentrically. Eccentric training is great for body builders because of this. Adding size to the tissue but also creating extreme DOMS, more so than any other muscle action. Which isn’t great for athletes during their training. A great quote that I personally couldn’t agree more with is from Louie Simmons, a world renowned strength coach at Westside Barbell, “big is not strong, strong is strong”. Louie’s literature regarding eccentrics is phenomenal and I encourage anyone reading this blog to check it out. The athletes at Westside do not train slow eccentrics simply because they have tested it numerous times and did not see strength benefits. Please keep in mind this is the strongest gym in the world. The weight these athletes lift are most likely not what your athletes are lifting in the gym.
This leads us into the strength benefits of eccentric training. To keep this blog as unbiased as possible I decided to run my own tests on the benefits of eccentric strength training and the positive or negative effects it may or may not have on what I believe to be the more important training aspect; the concentric phase also known as the acceleration phase. Because strength can be measured in speed, we used a RepOne Strength VBT unit to track the velocity of the bar. We also used crane measurer to measure band tension. I got the idea of this test from Westside. In the Book of Methods written by Louie Simmons, Louie discusses a test they ran with Matt Smith a 1008lb squatter.
“With 550lbs of only weight on the bar, the eccentric portion took .9m/s and the concentric 1.35m/s. With a combination of weight and bands (375 + 175, 550 at the top and 375 at the bottom), the eccentric phase was .55 m/s and the concentric .76m/s. When only bands were used (750 at the top and 550 at the bottom), the eccentric phase was .53m/s and the concentric .57m/s. Bands work like muscle and connective tissue, lengthening and contracting in addition to absorbing kinetic energy.”
Although Westside has many tests in their literature regarding eccentrics and why they never train slow eccentrics, most strength coaches are either unaware of these tests or simply rule them out because they are completed with extremely strong men, which makes them somehow incomparable to their athletes. So, I decided to conduct a similar study with my athletes. All of which squat 400+ lbs on a box. We started out with 6 athletes, 2 of which were remote trainees and they were unable to measure band tension accordingly, 1 of which wasn’t able to finish testing because he traveled back to college for spring in another state. So we finished the test with only 3 athletes. This is why only 3 results will be shown in this blog (M1, M2, M3 are different athletes). These 3 athletes ranged in ages from 18 – 26 all with 3+ years of training experience. Instead of testing the athletes on a box with a surplus of weight, I decided to appeal to other strength coaches and test the athletes in a conventional squat with no box present and sub-maximal weights. The bench press was raw with no pad or block on the chest and the deadlift was raw with no straps or belt and done conventional with an overhand grip.
Our in-house test was designed to see which type of eccentrics are optimal for VBT, slow eccentrics or overspeed eccentrics. The results showed that slow eccentrics should not be trained during VBT to maximize acceleration during the concentric portion of the lift. VBT stands for Velocity Based Training and is a measurable coaches use to train a specific strength which is measured by a specific speed according to the force-velocity curve. Our test results show that a slower eccentric phase resulted in a slower concentric phase during VBT. The test also showed that adding band tension for accommodating resistance and utilizing overspeed eccentrics allowed our athletes to push through a heavier load as the weight was moved concentrically through each lift and the barbell speed would move almost equally as fast, if not faster than the load with out the accommodating resistance lowered eccentrically slower. The results varied per individual and their current strengths and weaknesses in each lift.
The results were as follows:
As you can see, we compared a light bar weight with a slow eccentric phase approximately 4 seconds in length for every lift (RED) into a fast concentric phase (as fast as possible). Using the same weight, we then added a specific amount of band tension measured by our crane measurer for each athlete on each lift. Using sub maximal weights and overspeed eccentrics, the sets with band tension moved extremely fast (GREEN) even though the athlete was pushing through more resistance concentrically. The sets without band tension using sub maximal weights moved slower on average and sometimes decreased by almost .3m/s as shown here for M3 (male 3) squat:
We tested all 3 lifts with 3 sets and 1 rep each. Except for the deadlift, because the concentric phase of the deadlift could start with no eccentric phase, the athlete would do 1 rep and than lower the weight with either slow or overspeed eccentrics. In order to keep the weight from slamming during the deadlift on overspeed eccentrics we slightly reset (extremely fast) than proceeded into the rep. The deadlift was by far the most informational lift. The first rep was extremely fast of course but because there was no eccentric phase we couldn’t count it for our test. The second rep was slightly slower on average. Regardless if it was overspeed eccentrics or slow eccentrics. “No eccentric work is being done during a deadlift. The CNS is stressed more when deadlifting than when squatting or benching, so do only the optimal number of reps according to Prilepin’s table, not the maximal number.” Louie Simmons (Book of Methods) The bar speed never slows down doing only 1 rep and the athlete can train their specific strength optimally.
Which brings us to the training aspect of optimal eccentrics. Being able to absorb force is a part of every sport. We all know most athletes get injured in the eccentric or deceleration phase. But it is not the most important part of their sport. Most athletes want to learn how to run faster, jump higher and/or produce more force. As they should, power plays and power pays. Simply put, acceleration is always more important. Which is why we didn’t use a box squat for our testing. The box squat is simply elite and would alter what other strength coaches thought of this test. During the conventional squat an athlete lowers himself to a position and reaches zero velocity. At this point the athlete is trying to overcome the load, but on a box, he is moving when contact is made. This is Kinetic energy. When bands are attached to the bar, “this helps increase the velocity of the eccentric phase, causing added kinetic energy (overspeed eccentrics).” Louie Simmons (Book of Methods) This is why we utilize the box squat during our training in house. An increase in mass leads to an increase in rebound velocity, as the athlete goes down to the box being pulled faster eccentrically with bands, the athlete then sits completely on the box (the stretch reflex lasts two or more seconds depending on the athlete) causing a sudden static to dynamic or relaxed overcome by dynamic phase of the lift when the athlete accelerates the bar. If the athlete sits on the box extremely wide with a straight shin angle more tissues are recruited in the glutes and hamstrings making the squat dominate in the muscles that propel the athlete into acceleration. A conventional squat with no box is primarily quad dominate, quads are the muscles that decelerates an athlete. Jennifer Hewit (Understanding Deceleration in Sports)
Teaching the athlete how to absorb force using plyometrics, reversal strength training or shock training methods without taking away from the acceleration aspect of their training will have greater carry over to sport specific movements. For example, drop jumps. These specific jumps differ from depth jumps. The athlete drops off a box and absorbs their force into the ground by landing “soft” and sticking their landing with solid technique. This teaches the athlete how to land and absorb force athletically without the reversal strength or concentric muscle action of what a depth jump would train. A depth jump is where the athlete drops off the box, comes in contact with the ground and immediately jumps as high as possible following a short amortization phase. Although both jumps are training specific strengths, drop jumps are focused primarily on the eccentric/deceleration portion. While depth jumps are for more elite athletes training both absolute strength and explosive strength depending on how high the drop is.
I would like to impose these questions, are you training eccentrically just to train eccentrics? Or, are you training optimal eccentrics? Just because we know an athlete goes through an eccentric, amortization, and concentric phase in almost all aspects of sport, it does not mean we must only look at those 3 phases and simply train them just to train them. In my subjective opinion, there is much more to it than that. I encourage you to seek solutions to train each phase optimally per each individual and their sports demands.
This however doesn’t mean there is no use for tempo training. Lowering a weight slowly and lowering it under control are two completely different things and that is not what this blog is intended to cover. An athlete must possess the strength and technique to handle heavy loads before moving those loads with speed. As we move forward, we will continue to test as many training modalities and methodologies as possible. As a strength coach, I believe it is our responsibility to our athletes to further our education in order to provide the best training we possibly can. If you would like more information on eccentric training, I advise you to read the books below.
Book of Methods, (Louie Simmons) Special Strength Development For All Sports, (Louie Simmons) Supertraining, (Mel Siff)