Gain strength and develop muscle by doing eccentric-enhanced training. Focusing on the eccentric phase of your lifts is one of the MOST effective training methods to get results—and the gains are well worth the effort. It is well accepted that eccentric-enhanced training produces muscle hypertrophy, and new research tells why.
The study, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise had active men perform 300 high force eccentric knee extensions and then did muscle biopsies on their quad muscles. Researchers tested the increase in satellite cells, which are considered “quiet” or dormant cells until they are activated by exercise. Once activated, satellite cells will grow, producing increases in muscle cross sectional area. The more satellite cells are activated, the more muscle growth occurs.
After the workout, the type II satellite cell content increased by 73 percent, and in mixed muscle that had type I and II fibers, satellite cell content increased by 25 percent. The type II growth was considered a robust growth, whereas the mixed muscle increase was not significant, which highlights the preferential activation of heavy eccentric training on the more powerful type II fibers.
The take away is that to grow muscle, you have much better results if you train with a moderate to heavy load and include eccentric-enhanced exercises in your program. You need to use an intensity that is heavy enough to activate the type II fibers to “kick start” muscle building. Previous studies have shown that training with heavier eccentric loads will produce significant elevations in growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which are thought to bind with the activated satellite cells to produce greater muscle growth and less muscle protein degradation.
Also, know that previous studies using lower-intensity eccentric training, or concentric-only training have not produced satellite cell activation. In the longer term, these methods would produce much smaller, slower gains in size and strength. Best results will come if you include some eccentric-enhanced training in your program and the good news is there are many ways to do so.
For example, start by increasing the time you spend on the eccentric phase of all your lifts. Instead of taking a standard 1- or 2- seconds to lower the weight, increase your eccentric tempo to 4 or 6 seconds. Other methods of eccentric-enhanced training include using special equipment like eccentric hooks with added weight that will hang on the end of a barbell and drop off when the barbell reaches the lowest point. Or, use a spotter and a greater than maximal concentric load—lower the weight by yourself and get the spotter to help you complete the up phase. Start conservatively, but studies show you are as much as 1.75 times stronger during the eccentric phase than the eccentric phase.
Cermak, N., Snijders, T., et al. Eccentric Exercise Increases Satellite Cell Content in Type II Muscle Fibers. Medicine and Science and Sports and Exercise. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.