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The Importance of Eccentric Movement

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Often times our coaches will fall into a trap of talking about an idea or training principle that we simply assume everyone understands or has heard of, however it is important for us to remember that we always have new people making their way into the walls of our gym or starting to read our articles and social media posts that may not have any idea what we are talking about.

One of those ideas/principles that we utilize and mention frequently at CrossFit BoomTown is eccentric movement.  So let’s clarify what we are talking about and why we mention and use this principle so often in our training.

Definition:

Eccentric (Negative) Movements – during these types of contractions the muscle lengthens while producing force, typically this is while returning from a shortened/concentric position.  An example of this would be the lowering phase on a pull up or back squat.

So now that we know what eccentric movement is, why does it matter and what do we use it for?

There are a number of benefits to eccentric training or a focus on eccentric movement, including:

–       Increasing strength and durability of the musculoskeletal system.

–       Building a better neuromuscular connection through a controlled focused approach to movements that may be new or unfamiliar to you. Thus helping you to improve your movement by identifying and working through points of the movement that are difficult for you, rather than rushing through them to get out of an uncomfortable spot.

–       Building strength in a movement pattern that you may not currently be able to perform concentrically (i.e. performing negative pull ups to build strength towards a regular pull up).

–       Limits over-reaching, many times people are excited about training and lifting and will utilize loads that are outside of their capacity at the time, by using a slow eccentric we will raise the difficulty of the movement without adding additional load and decrease the likelihood of over-reaching.

–       Often used for rehab/recovery, a focus on light-moderate loads under a slow eccentric movement are utilized to speed muscle recovery, rehab injuries, reduce tendonitis/tendinosis (tendinopathy)…eccentric strength programs are considered vital by physical therapists to treat tendinopathy.

–       Combats Sarcopenia (progressive loss of muscle mass due to aging), increased muscle building compared to concentric training.

–       Increases bone density more than concentric training.

Reviewing the list above shows how valuable utilizing this training principle can be, unfortunately for many people it is not sexy enough for them, it is more exciting to go fast and hard and use more weight.  That will eventually not work and will disrupt consistency in your training and reduce resilience in your body to adapt to your training.

This is another one of those times to reflect on the “why” of your training and consider how effective eccentric training can be in helping you reach your “why”.

Most of us are working out to feel better, increase our capacity for life and improve the quality of our lives by adding functional longevity…with a side of looking better naked, and eccentric training can truly help us achieve all of those areas.

So how can you use this information in your training in classes at CrossFit BoomTown or however you train?  It’s pretty simple….slow down!  When performing strength building and skill building work add a tempo to your eccentric phases, this applies not only to things like back squats but also to body weight movements like push ups, pull ups and to things like turkish get-ups and sled pushes.  You can certainly give yourself a specific tempo if that is helpful for you (i.e. 4411 – 4 second eccentric, 4 second pause, 1 second concentric, 1 second rest) however, I prefer to encourage most clients to simply use a slower down than up tempo with a momentary pause in between the eccentric and concentric phases of whatever movement being performed.  Taking this approach is often easier to understand and stick to versus trying to count your way through each rep, we want you focused on the movement, not counting.

Be intentional, focus on moving well and take the time to slow it down.