Eccentric training is a great way to improve your performance with weight training, but it can be a little daunting. This is the guide to understanding what it is, how it works, and how to apply it. It is a guide that will help you practice the most basic movements in the gym and apply them to your own training.
Over the past few years, the term “Powerlifting” has become something of a household buzzword in the strength training community, with many of the top-tier athletes and powerlifters in the world using it as their primary training and competition platform. But what exactly is “Powerlifting” and how exactly does it differ from other strength training methods? Read on to find out.
Eccentric muscle action is an essential component of most weight training exercises, which is why so many of the exercises we do involve lifting a weight beyond the point of concentric, or “straight ahead,” muscle action. But there’s a catch. A significant number of people find eccentric muscle action to be uncomfortable and difficult to perform.
There are a plethora of fantastic strategies to increase your size and strength. To break past training plateaus, many of the world’s best athletes have adopted training strategies like cluster sets, drop sets, and rest-pause sets. Supramaximal eccentric training, on the other hand, is the quickest approach for expert athletes to break through training plateaus.
Supra-maximal eccentric training is a type of advanced training that involves overloading the lowering portion of an exercise with a weight that is greater than your 1-rep maximum. For a supra-maximal eccentric bench press program, if your best bench press is 300 pounds, you should drop the weight to anywhere between 305 and 400 pounds. To execute supra-maximal eccentric training, you’ll almost always need to employ specialized training equipment like weight releasers or eccentric hooks. However, if you are resourceful, you can execute supra-maximal eccentrics in a standard commercial gym. Josh Bryant is seen here instructing one of his bodybuilding clients through a supra-maximal eccentric bench press program to help him create a bigger, stronger chest:
Josh is employing “weight releasers” as a training tool for this workout. Weight releasers are large metal hooks that attach to the barbell on either side. When you hit the bottom of the bench press, the weight releasers come off, leaving you with only the barbell to push back up to lockout. Because you can overload the lowering phase of your exercises with a weight greater than your 1-rep max, weight releasers are a fantastic tool. Weight releasers, in other words, assist you in performing supra-maximal eccentric exercise!
Supra-maximal eccentric training, as I indicated at the outset of this essay, is THE quickest approach for elite athletes to break through strength plateaus. I wasn’t kidding when I said supra-maximal eccentric exercise is fantastic!
The fact that eccentric training puts extra tension on your muscle fibers is one of the reasons it works so well. According to studies, the eccentric or lowering portion of your exercises puts up to 30% more tension on your muscles than the concentric or lifting phase (1). And that’s simply for regular reps at 70-80% of your one-rep max. The stress on your muscle fibers is off the charts when you conduct supra-maximal eccentric training with 110-120 percent of your 1-rep max! This is critical because the more strain you apply to your muscle fibers, the faster you will gain strength and functional hypertrophy. Just take a look at the video below:
The athlete’s legs are trembling as he lowers the weight. This isn’t due to poor form; rather, the supra-maximal eccentric weight is exerting an incredible amount of strain on his leg muscles!
Fortunately, research shows that eccentric training increases muscle tension, which aids in the development of bigger, stronger muscles. Eccentric exercise generates far more strength and muscle growth than concentric contractions, according to a large body of evidence (2-3). Eccentric contractions, in particular, are superior for increasing the cross-sectional area of your muscles, according to scientific evidence (4). This is reasonable. After all, it’s during the eccentric period of an exercise that the majority of the muscle injury occurs.
According to studies, eccentric-only reps increase concentric strength levels faster than standard reps (5–6)! This means that instead of doing standard “up-and-down” reps, you could be better off just lowering big weights under control.
One of the most effective training approaches for advanced athletes is supra-maximal eccentric training. Let’s have a look at some of the most effective ways to use this training strategy into your personal routines.
Here are five of the best supra-maximal eccentric training strategies in my opinion:
- Option 1: The 4+2 Formula
- Option #2: Eccentric-Only Reps in Multiples
- Option #3: Eccentric-Only Singles in Multiples
- Eccentric Cluster Sets (option 4)
- Option #5: The Three-to-One Method
These types of supra-maximal eccentric training are ordered from easiest to most demanding. If you’re new to eccentric training, the 4+2 approach is a wonderful place to start, whereas the 3 then 1 method is suitable for advanced athletes.
The 4+2 approach is one of the most effective eccentric training strategies. The 4+2 method’s main concept is to do four standard “up and down” reps, then raise the weight and do two eccentric-only reps. The actual procedure is as follows:
The Protocol for the 4+2 Method
- Step 1: With your 4-rep max, perform 4 regular reps.
- Step 2: Increase your weight by 1 to 40%.
- Step 3: Perform 2 eccentric-only reps with a lowering phase of 8-10 seconds.
Steps 1-3 are completed in a sequence with as little downtime as possible using the 4+2 approach. Your eccentric strength levels will determine how much weight you add for your eccentric-only reps. If you have a lot of expertise with eccentric training, you might easily increase the amount of eccentric reps by 15-40%, making these real eccentric-only exercises. If you’re new to eccentric training, you should definitely increase these eccentric-only reps by 1-15 percent. On the dumbbell concentration curl, here’s a wonderful demonstration of the 4+2 method:
On the two eccentric-only reps, the athlete should have used an 8-10 second lowering period, but otherwise, this is an excellent display. The 4+2 approach is particularly successful because it combines the best of both worlds in one prolonged set: normal reps and supramaximal eccentric reps. After depleting your concentric strength levels, the strong eccentric-only reps allow you to overload your eccentric strength levels. According to strength coach Charles Poliquin, the 4+2 approach is the finest strategy to increase functional hypertrophy and create maximal strength. You might want to try this sample 4+2 arm workout. Take a look:
The Arm Routine with the 4+2 Method
- A1: 3-5 x 4** V-bar dips (upright torso), 4/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
- A2: Concentration curls, 3-5 x 4**, 4/0/X/0, rest 2 minutes
- B1: DB extension at 30 degrees inclination, 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
- 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest B2: Standing cable reverse curl, 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
**The 4+2 approach was used to complete this task. Perform 4 standard reps, then raise the weight by 5-20% and add two extra eccentric-only reps with a 10-second lowering pace.
Here are the workout videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, and exercise C1, exercise C2.
The 4+2 technique is a fantastic approach to exercise. The most significant disadvantage of this training strategy is that it can be difficult to safely do eccentric-only reps in a commercial gym. Using weight releasers and two well-trained spotters is one approach to get around this obstacle. After you’ve completed your first four reps, the spotters will attach the weight releasers to either side of the barbell, allowing you to perform eccentric-only reps. When the weight releasers slip off at the bottom of the exercise, your spotters will assist you in lifting the weight back up to lockout. For the second eccentric rep, rinse and repeat. Another method I enjoy is to select movements that allow you to safely “skip” the concentric range for your two eccentric-only reps. Dips is a great illustration of what I’m talking about. Simply stand on the dipping platform and lower yourself to the bottom position over 8-10 seconds for eccentric reps. Then you stand up on the dipping platform and complete your next eccentric-only rep. One-arm bicep curls are equally effective: raise the weight up to lockout with your non-working arm before lowering the weight over 8-10 seconds. Multiple eccentric-only reps is another excellent supramaximal eccentric training strategy. Every rep should consist of 4-6 eccentric-only reps with an 8-10 second descending period. On chin-ups, here’s a nice demonstration of this training method:
To “skip” the concentric range of the exercise, the athlete in this video stands on an adjustable bench. She then slowly lowers herself for 10 seconds, eccentrically overloading her upper back and bicep muscles. The beauty of this technique is that you can do numerous eccentric-only reps with a weight that is more than your one-rep max. Surprisingly beneficial for triggering growth in your fast-twitch muscle fibers are these supra-maximal eccentric reps. Consider this: you’re doing many reps with a weight that’s higher than your 1-rep max! In addition, you’re putting in an INCREDIBLE amount of time under tension per set. In a single set, if each rep takes 10 seconds to complete, you can easily accrue 40-60 seconds of time under tension! That’s a potent stimulus for gaining size and strength! Here’s an example of a standard eccentric-only chin-ups routine. Take a look:
Back / Biceps Routine with Multiple Eccentric-Only Reps
- 4 × 4-6, 8/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest, A1: Eccentric-only chin ups (narrow / supinated grip), 4 x 4-6, 8/0/1/0,
- B1: 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 2 minutes rest, seated cable row (v-handle)
- C1: Cable curl at 60 degrees inclination, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/2/0, 2 minutes rest
The training videos are as follows: exercise A1, exercise B1, and exercise C1.
As you can see, this is a routine with a lower volume. Because the multiple eccentric only singles approach causes a lot of muscle damage, you must be cautious about how much training volume you utilize. It will be impossible to recover if you consume too much volume, and you will not be able to progress with this strategy.
Multiple eccentric-only reps is a very effective training method. It’s fantastic for increasing maximal strength and functional hypertrophy. There are, however, more effective ways to use supra-maximal eccentric training if you are serious about getting as strong as possible. We’ll go over eccentric cluster sets and two distinct techniques to do eccentric-only singles in the rest of this post. These are rigorous training methods that should only be employed by advanced athletes, I must warn you. Before you even consider using these advanced approaches, you must have a lot of expertise with eccentric training! “Eccentric cluster sets” is one of the most powerful eccentric training methods ever devised. Eccentric cluster sets are a combination of two effective training techniques:
If you’re unfamiliar with cluster sets, I suggest reading my post “Cluster Sets: The Ultimate Guide!” Cluster sets are a type of exercise in which you execute many reps with short rest periods in between. You’ll do eccentric cluster sets with sets of 5 reps and 30 seconds of rest between each exercise. Consider the following scenario:
Training Protocol for Eccentric Clusters
- Rep 1 first, then take a 30-second break while re-racking the weight releasers.
- Rep #2, then re-rack the weight releasers and rest for 30 seconds.
- Rep #3, then re-rack the weight releasers and rest for 30 seconds.
- Rep #4, then re-rack the weight releasers and rest for 30 seconds.
- Rep #5, then take a 3-6 minute break before starting the next set!
On the bench press, one of Christian Thibadeau’s athletes gives a fantastic demonstration of eccentric cluster sets:
As you can see, the athlete does 5 reps per set with a 30 second break in between.
These 30-second rest periods provide just enough time for your muscles to recover so that they may deliver maximal effort on each rep. They also give you enough time between reps to reload the weight releasers onto the bar. This training method does not require the use of weight releasers. With one-arm preacher curls and dips, you might easily complete an eccentric cluster sets arm workout. Weight releasers, on the other hand, are a fantastic alternative due to the 30-second rest periods. You might want to try this upper body eccentric cluster sets exercise. Take a look:
Upper Body Routine is Set by Eccentric Cluster
- A1: 5 × 5****, 8/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest, bench press with weight releasers (competitive grip)**
- 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest, A2: Subscapularis pull ups, 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Poliquin fly at 30 degrees, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 75 seconds rest
- B2: 3 x 6-8 T-bar row, 2/0/1/1, 75 seconds rest
To give you extra time to relax between sets of bench presses, this program employs antagonistic supersets. This isn’t necessary; you could simply combine an eccentric cluster sets routine with standard “straight sets,” in which you execute your first set of bench presses, rest for 2-4 minutes, and repeat. When adopting an intensive training strategy like eccentric clusters, however, antagonistic supersets are a wonderful alternative. This is a fairly rigorous training regimen, thus the extra rest in between sets for each exercise is extremely beneficial.
If you want to get as powerful as possible, you’ll have to try with eccentric-only singles sooner or later. The concept is simple: for a single repetition, you drop a weight that is greater than your 1-rep max. Although most strength instructors recommend lowering the weight over 8-10 seconds, others have experimented with somewhat faster lowering speeds. Here’s a fantastic overview of the eccentric-only singles method from Josh Bryant:
The eccentric-only singles method is a tremendously effective training technique. These eccentric-only singles put an absurd amount of strain on your fast-twitch muscle fibers, resulting in explosive strength improvements. If you’re going to adopt this kind of training, it’s critical that you keep the weight under control on each rep. On each rep, I advocate an 8-10 second lowering phase. No, that wasn’t a typo — you want to drop the weight on all of your singles in 8-10 seconds! It’s too heavy if you can’t lower it for more than 8-10 seconds. Lowering the weights gently and steadily keeps you safer while also increasing muscular tension for better strength growth. You might want to try this eccentric only singles squat routine. Take a look:
Singles Squat Routine with a Twist
- A1: 6-8 x 1, 10/0/1/0, 3 minutes break, back squat with weight releasers (mid stance / heels flat)
- B1: Leg press with bands at 45 degrees, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: 3 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest, bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointing in), 3 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0
- D1: 3 × 10-12 pound dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts, 2/1/1/0, 2 minutes rest
The training videos are as follows: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, and exercise D1.
I recommend doing anything from 6 to 8 total singles for this workout. This workout’s goal is to complete 6-8 high-quality sets. You don’t want to “go all-in” and put everything you own into one set. Instead, I want each set to be extremely difficult yet slightly below maximum. If you can safely lower 400 pounds in 8-10 seconds, for example, you should complete the majority of your sets in the 360-380 pound range. You can expect some of the fastest strength increases of your life if you execute this correctly!
It’s a fantastic approach to get in shape by performing eccentric-only singles. However, in my experience, there are techniques to improve the effectiveness of this training strategy. The “3 then 1 method” is one of these methods. Charles Poliquin devised the 3 then 1 approach, which is a more advanced version of contrast sets training. On the squat, bench press, or any other major barbell exercise, alternate back and forth between a heavy triple and an eccentric-only single. Consider the following scenario:
- Set one is a heavy triple.
- Set #2: Weight-relieving singles
- Set three: A heavy triple.
- Set #4: Weight-relieving singles
- Set #5 consists of a heavy triple.
- Single with weight releasers (Set #6)
Here’s Charles Poliquin discussing how he uses the 3 then 1 approach in his own training regimen with Marc Bell:
So, what’s the point of the three-step process? This is essentially a more advanced version of contrast sets training. As you move through the workout, the two types of sets “potentiate” your central nervous system, allowing you to lift greater and heavier weights. Your central nervous system will be primed by the first heavy set of three reps, allowing you to lift more weight on your eccentric singles. The eccentric singles, on the other hand, drive your body to activate as many muscle fibers as possible, increasing your force production on your following set of three reps. The three-then-one approach is a phenomenally powerful training method! To help you improve your incline bench press, here’s a sample 3 then 1 approach program. Take a look:
3 Methods Then 1 Chest, Shoulder, and Triceps Routine
- A1: Bench press at 45 degrees inclination (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
- A2: 3 × 1, 10/0/1/0, 3 minutes break, 45 degree incline bench press with weight releasers (shoulder-width grip)**
- B1: 3 x 6-8 seated DB overhead press, 2/0/1/0, 2 min rest
- C1: Skull crusher, dead stop, 3 x 8-10, 2/1/1/0, 2 minutes rest
The following are the workout videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise C1.
The 3 then 1 method is an extremely complex training approach that should only be utilized by strength athletes with at least 3-5 years of experience in the gym. If you believe you meet these requirements, I strongly advise you to give it a try to increase your squat, bench press, incline bench press, or overhead press. You will not be dissatisfied!
Supra-maximal eccentric training focuses on reducing weights that are more than 100 percent of your standard 1-rep max. These eccentric-only reps assault your fast-twitch muscle fibers, allowing you to gain strength and mass at a breakneck speed. The following are the five most effective supra-maximal eccentric training strategies in my opinion:
- Option 1: The 4+2 Formula
- Option #2: Eccentric-Only Reps in Multiples
- Option #3: Eccentric-Only Singles in Multiples
- Eccentric Cluster Sets (option 4)
- Option #5: The Three-to-One Method
The 4+2 approach, eccentric cluster sets, and the 3 then 1 method are three of my personal favorites. You’ll be surprised at how effective they are at increasing strength and functional hypertrophy. Check out the following articles for further information about eccentric training:
It’s like Ron Burgundy drinking milk on a hot summer day if you skip these articles. It’s a poor decision! So, what do you have to lose? There’s no better time than now to break through your size and strength plateaus with supra-maximal eccentric training!
“Desire, not hope, not wish, but a strong pulsating desire that transcends all, is the starting point of all achievement.”
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I wish you the best of luck in your strength-training endeavors!
- Hoppeler, Hoppeler, Hoppeler, Hoppeler, Hoppeler, Hoppeler, Hoppeler (2014). Many questions remain unanswered in this bizarre exercise. 116:405–406. J. Appl. Physiol.
- N. D. Reeves, C. N. Maganaris, S. Longo, and M. V. Narici (2009). Differential adaptations in older adults to eccentric versus regular resistance exercise. 10.1113/expphysiol.2009.046599 Exp. Physiol. 94, 825–833.
- M. Roig, K. O’Brien, G. Kirk, R. Murray, P. McKinnon, B. Shadgan, and others (2009). A systematic study and meta-analysis of the effects of eccentric versus concentric resistance exercise on muscular strength and mass in healthy adults. 10.1136/bjsm.2008.051417 10.1136/bjsm.2008.051417 10.1136/bjsm.2008.051417 10.1136/bjsm.2008.051417 10.1136/bjs
- V. Julian, D. Thivel, F. Costes, J. Touron, Y. Boirie, B. Pereira, and others (2018). Eccentric training improves body composition by causing mechanical and metabolic changes, making it a promising treatment option for overweight and obese people. 10.3389/fphys.2018.01013 Front. Physiol. 9:1013.
- H. Vikne, P. E. Refsnes, M. Ekmark, J. I. Medbo, V. Gundersen, K. Gundersen (2006). In trained males, muscular performance after concentric and eccentric exercise. 38, 1770–1781, Med. Sci. Sports Exerc.
- J. Douglas, S. Pearson, A. Ross, and M. McGuigan (2017). A thorough review of chronic adaptations to eccentric exercise. Sports Medicine, vol. 47, no. 17, pp. 17–41.
Mike Jansen, M.D.
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