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One major way to dramatically change your results in your traditional weight lifting program is to exploit the mechanism behind the physiological function of a muscle. This may sound complicated, however, it’s relatively simplistic.
First, a little science. A typical lift has a component of three phases: eccentric, concentric, and isometric. Scientifically speaking, the eccentric phase is when the tension supplied to the myofilaments (“cross bridges”), actin and myosin, within the sarcomere is less than the resistance of the bar or apparatus you desire to move. Thus, your muscle lengthens.
The concentric phase is when the tension in the cross bridges is greater than the resistance. Thus, your muscle shortens.
The isometric phase is when the tension in the cross bridges is equal to the resistance. Thus, no change in length occurs.
Understanding these principles is essential to effectively maximizing force production in the human body. Eccentrically, since we don’t have to overcome the resistance, we are able to sustain a greater weight load. Science has shown that often times we have been able to handle 120-140% of the loads eccentrically that we can handle concentrically. A good example of this would be a man hanging over a cliff while attached to a rope. Lowering him down is significantly easier than pulling him up. The explanation for this is that on the upward motion, we must overcome his body weight and other applied resistances including gravitational pull. However, on the downward motion, it is unnecessary to overcome these applied forces in order to lower the body down.
The muscle functions in the exact same way with the cross bridges or “filaments” working like a come-along on your truck — it is difficult to crank them in and very easy to let them out. Understanding these basic principles of muscular contraction enables us to take common movements and produce uncommon results. The way this is accomplished is by making the methodology behind these common movements uncommon.
One of the primary principles that I have applied for the last 22 years is the eccentric-pause exercise. When you desire to increase the force that you can apply in an exercise, exploiting the eccentric and isometric phases should be a pivotal part of your training program.
Let’s take the bench press for instance. In my strength phases, I dedicate the first day of the week be a standard bench press. On the second, non-sequential day that the athlete benches, I require an eccentric-pause bench instead of a standard bench. The athlete starts the bar in a slow downward motion eccentrically towards their chest. The spotter counts a period of four seconds for the downward motion. When the bar reaches the chest, a pause is conducted, without resting the bar on the chest, for a period of 2-3 seconds before contracting and pressing the bar explosively upward with a little help of your spotter.
The slower motion of the eccentric phase allows the time for a greater accommodation of more active cross bridges to engage. This occurs because muscle force must develop — it cannot take place instantaneously. By engaging more cross bridges, we are increasing the total body of work that is accomplished throughout the muscle.
When we pause the bar and no movement whatsoever is established, yet the muscle is still under tension, we allow for the optimal amount of cross bridges to be engaged. It’s important to understand that eccentric-pause exercises have a significant function in overall force production. Any exercise that you conduct in a standard weight lifting fashion on its second day can be applied in an eccentric-pause methodology. The eccentric count should occur slowly and the pause should come between the transition of the eccentric and concentric phases.
Give the eccentric pause principle a try, with the caveat that your level of soreness post-workout will dramatically increase! Everything worth having in life comes at a price. If force production is your desire, the pain of recovery will be your price.
–Use this method early in your workout on basic, mass-building exercises such as the bench press, squat, overhead press, dip or pull-up.
–Make sure that you have a strong, attentive spotter when using this method.
–Keep the reps low when training with eccentric pauses. For most, 3-5 reps per set will suffice.
–As opposed to traditional negatives, the loads should be heavy enough that you can move the weight concentrically with little assistance from your spotter.
You can see Mike Barwis on American Muscle Wednesdays on Discovery Channel at 9 pm ET/PT. For more information, visit the show website at http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/american-muscle or check out The Barwis Method website at http://www.barwismethods.com/.