Improve lower body flexibility and jump higher by doing eccentric training. Eccentric training in which a muscle lengthens while producing tension, is excellent for building strength and it is transferable to many sports. New research shows it is more effective for increasing flexibility than a static stretching protocol.
Optimal flexibility is necessary to prevent injury and to be able to perform many traditional training exercises correctly. Plus, lack of mobility in the hip flexors and ankles can make you a weak jumper because it’s been shown to cause faulty jumping mechanics . Increasing range of motion at these joints can increase the motor units used during explosive hip extension, leading to increased vertical jump height.
If your deep squat, deadlift, power clean, or front squat technique suffer due to poor flexibility in the ankles, hips, shoulders, or wrists, you won’t be able to get the most out of your training—and you’ll look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Eccentric training is the solution.
A new analysis in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reviewed six studies that looked at the effect of eccentric lower body training programs on flexibility. All six studies produced clinically significant increases in flexibility in the ankle and hip joints after participants performed eccentric training programs that spanned 6 to 14 weeks. For example, at the hamstring, a 6-week eccentric program increased joint ROM increased by as much as 13 degrees. A 14-week eccentric training program increased hip ROM by an average of 22 percent.
Researchers suggest the reason eccentric training is so effective at increasing flexibility and joint ROM is that it results in the addition of sarcomeres in series within the muscle, which increases the joint angle at which peak torque is generated. Remember that sarcomeres are the basic unit of a muscle that make it contract. More sarcomeres means a longer muscle fascicle length. In the studies reviewed, fascicle length was found to increase significantly in the hamstring, calf, and quad.
There’s no downside to including eccentric training in your program (besides soreness afterwards) since it will help you maintain or increase flexibility , while making you stronger. It’s also been shown to improve neuromuscular control, which is good for athletes and the general population needing to perform “functional” movements.
If you are new to eccentric training, I suggest you begin by manipulating tempo to perform eccentric-enhanced lifts. You don’t need to use extra heavy eccentric loads or special devices such as eccentric hooks, bands, or chains. Just start by performing the eccentric phase of your lift on a 4-second count and the concentric phase on a 1-second count. This can be varied to use a longer eccentric phase and an explosive concentric motion.
O’Sullivan, K., McAuliffe, S., et al. The Effects of Eccentric Graining on Lower Limb Flexibility: A Review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.