No, you don't need a trainer or a fancy fitness gizmo to double your strength training results. You can use whatever equipment you have right now (or none at all) and still get a benefit from this research-proven lifting technique.
A recent article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine examined whether concentric or eccentric muscle contractions resulted in greater strength gains. If you feel confused already, stick with me. A concentric muscle contraction is the shortening phase of an exercise, typically when you're lifting a weight (like lifting a dumbbell during a biceps curl). An eccentric muscle contraction is the opposite: when the muscle lengthens, usually when you're lowering a weight or returning to the start position of an exercise (like lowering the weight during a biceps curl).
Most of the time, people spend about an equal amount of time in both phases, say 2 counts to lift (concentric phase) and 2 counts to lower (eccentric phase). But research suggests that slowing down the eccentric phase has greater benefits. In one study, subjects who emphasized the eccentric contraction of an exercise gained nearly twice the strength as those who focused on the concentric portion of the exercise.
Why try this technique? For one, slowing down during your strength training is usually a safe bet—it reduces your risk of poor form and injury. Secondly, slower is usually better when it comes to strength training. Slower, more deliberate form provides greater challenge to your muscles and can give you better results overall. But it's good to know that you don't necessarily have to slow down your entire work out to reap these benefits—just slow down for a part of each exercise.
How to do it: Try not to get bogged down figuring out which phase of an exercise is eccentric and which is concentric. A very safe bet is that the lifting phase is concentric (keep a normal pace for that), and the lowering phase is eccentric (slow down there). Spend about 2 counts on the lifting phase, but take 4-5 counts when lowering or returning to the start position of an exercise. As a bonus, you can use this technique whether you use dumbbells, gym machines, resistance bands, or even body weight as your resistance.
Personally, I do use this technique from time to time. I try to change up the pace of my exercises regularly in order to keep my muscles guessing. I've long known that slowing down the eccentric phase of an exercise has benefits, but I'm more apt to make it a regular thing now that science is on my side, too.
How about you: Do you slow down on the lowering phase to increase the burn? Will you try this lifting technique?
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