I’m all for trying the latest and greatest trendy workouts. But part of building a fun fitness routine that *also* delivers major results includes going back to basics. I’m talking basics—as in, learning the fundamentals of how your body and muscles move. Enter: eccentric, concentric, and isometric movements.
Allow me to explain. First, your muscles contract in three different ways: eccentric, concentric, and isometric. Here’s what each of those terms means:
- Eccentric movements happen when the muscles lengthen.
- Concentric movements occur when your muscles contract.
- Isometric is when the muscles are in a static position (not moving).
You likely experience all three types during your workouts, too. “Eccentric exercise is lengthening the muscle under tension or load, or lowering slowly against gravity,” explains Kimberly Wolf-King, PT, DPT, of Spooner Physical Therapy. Meanwhile, “Concentric is force generating, so it’s making the muscle shorter.” One of the most common examples of an eccentric exercise is lowering into a squat, according to Tatiana Lampa, CPT, a personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist and creator of the Training With T app.
Get the full breakdown on eccentric exercise, including seven expert-recommended ways to incorporate eccentric training into your workout routine, right here.
Benefits Of Eccentric Training
Here’s why it matters: Eccentric exercise can target your entire body (yep, every muscle group), and it has some major benefits for strength training, running, and yoga—just to name a few fab perks. Focusing on the eccentric movement in your workout routine can also:
- Reduce your risk of injury
- Improve stability
- Boost your body’s anti-inflammatory responses
- Improve stabilization
- Improve the effectiveness of your workouts
You’re probably familiar with eccentric movement, even if you don’t realize it. “In reality, everything that we do—if we’re just getting up out of bed and walking to the kitchen in the morning, all of that is our body’s way of doing an eccentric load,” Wolf-King says. “Otherwise, we’d collapse against gravity.”
In addition to keeping your body upright and in motion, eccentric movements have plenty of other benefits. Eccentric training can help prevent injuries because it strengthens your musculotendinous junctions (or, places where tendons attach your muscles to your bones), Wolf-King says.
There’s research to prove it. Eccentric exercises stimulate the production of collagen, which is the material that helps strengthen tendons and other tissues, according to a recent study in the Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology.
Eccentric movements are also great at helping your body produce anti-inflammatory responses, Wolf-King adds. Eccentric exercises send a signal to your bod to produce more anti-inflammatory substances like cytokines, per a 2021 study in Sports Medicine International Open.
Everyone can get a boost from focusing on eccentric training, but especially if you’re doing strength training, per Wolf-King and Lampa. “If you’re going to lift a weight, you’re going to have to put that weight down,” Wolf-King says. Training your muscles to lengthen will help your form and help prevent injury in the future. What’s more, eccentric training is better for building both muscle size and strength than concentric training, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Eccentric training’s benefits extend beyond the weight room. The practice involves stabilizing your muscles and holding certain positions while gravity works against you, which is a major plus on the yoga mat, says Wolfe-King. Plus, eccentric exercise is also an effective way to improve lower limb flexibility, per a 2014 review of relevant research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
And, Lampa says that runners or others who focus on cardio-based workouts (hi again elliptical lovers) might notice an improvement in their performance after going through a few eccentric motions.
Potential Risks With Eccentric Exercise
First of all, it’s important to always get approval from a medical professional (whether that’s your doctor or a physical therapist) before starting any new exercise program, Wolf-King notes. Be especially cautious if you have any injuries or conditions that affect your muscles or joints.
When trying eccentric exercises, make sure you’re focusing on proper form, she adds. Otherwise, you risk causing too much tension in the joints, which could lead to injuries.
“This is really, really important for anyone who’s rehabbing their body,” Lampa says. If you’re in recovery, eccentric movements can help you get back on your feet in no time (again, with your doc’s sign off!).
How To Add Eccentric Exercise To Your Routine
Now that you have a long list of why eccentric exercise rocks, you might be wondering how to add it to your workouts. Start slowly: Lampa recommends focusing on eccentric movements (the lengthening part of the movement) one or two times each week. Foundational moves you might already be familiar with, like squats and push-ups, are a great place to start.
And, listen to your body. If you’re new to eccentric training, Lampa says you should expect some sore muscles after your sweat session ends (research backs this up, too). “It’s going to probably take a day or two to recover from that soreness,” she explains. But she adds that feeling sore is a sign you’re doing it right—your body just isn’t used to the motions yet.
Best Eccentric Exercises To Add To Your Workouts
If you’re ready to dive in, Lampa suggests starting with these seven eccentric exercises. For each movement, do three sets of five to ten reps each, depending on how heavy your load is. And, always exhale on the effort.
- Start with legs hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees as you slowly sit your hips back, while keeping your chest up, until your thighs are parallel to floor (or as far as you can sit without your heels raising, chest falling forward, and/or knees tracking far past your ankles).
- Return to standing.
Make it eccentric: Take three seconds to squat down (eccentric phase), and take one second to come back up (concentric phase).
Level up: Hold a weight at your chest.
- While holding a dumbbell or a kettlebell, place your feet directly underneath your hips. Hold the weight between your legs, making sure the weight is not floating forward, but stays between your legs the entire time.
- Push your hips back while maintaining a neutral spine and soften while bending your knees, firing up your hamstrings and glutes.
- Then, return to standing.
Make it eccentric: Take three seconds to bend down (eccentric phase), and take one second to come back up (concentric phase).
- Start in a high plank with your hands set slightly wider than your shoulders. (Optional modification: Do reps on your knees instead.)
- Bend your elbows in a 45 degree angle, so chest lowers toward floor.
- Press away from the ground to return to starting position.
Make it eccentric: Take three seconds to lower down (eccentric phase), and take one second to come back up (concentric phase).
Trainer tip: Think of a push up as a moving plank, so try to maintain a neutral spine the entire time.
- Set a bench under a pull-up bar.
- Step up onto the bench, and grab the bar with an overhand grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Hang from the bar, bend your knees, and cross your ankles behind your body.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together, and raise your body until your shoulders are just under the bar.
- Lower back to the starting position.
Make it eccentric: Take one second to pull yourself up (concentric phase), and take three seconds to slowly lower your body back down (eccentric phase). “I swear by this!” Lampa says. “If you’re looking to nail down your first pull up, increase your reps, or improve form. Eccentric reps (3-5 seconds) will help immensely.”
- Start holding a pair of dumbbells just above your shoulders, palms facing each other, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
- Press the weights until your arms are straight overhead.
- Hold, then lower the dumbbells back to your shoulders.
Make it eccentric: Take one second to press the weights up (concentric phase), and take three seconds to slowly lower them back down (eccentric phase).
- Start sitting or standing, hold a pair of dumbbells by your side, palms facing forward. Bend your elbows, pulling your hands toward your shoulders slowly and with control.
- Curl all the way up, leaving a little space between your hands and shoulders.
- Pause, and lower down slowly all the way to the bottom.
Make it eccentric: Take three seconds to lower the weights down (eccentric phase), and take one second to lift them back up (concentric phase).
Trainer tip: Your upper arm and wrist should stay still; only move your forearm from the elbow joint.
- Start gripping the front edges of a chair or bench with your hands.
- Hover your butt just off and in front of the seat, feet flat, and legs bent so thighs are parallel to the floor with arms straight. (You can also sit on the floor, as shown.)
- Lower your body toward the floor until your arms form 90-degree angles. Then, engage your triceps to press back to start.
Make it eccentric: Take three seconds to lower yourself down (eccentric phase), and take one second to push yourself back up (concentric phase).
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