What Is Eccentric Overload?
Dr. John P. Wagle defines accentuated eccentric loading as eccentric loads in excess of the concentric prescription of movements that require coupled eccentric and concentric action while creating minimal interruption to the natural mechanics of the selected exercise. In other words, it is lifting a heavier weight during the eccentric phase instead of the concentric phase of the exercise, without allowing the extra load on the eccentric phase impact the technique of the lift.
Since muscles are approximately 40% stronger during eccentric contractions than during concentric contractions, this means that you can load greater than 100% of your one-rep max for the eccentric phase. Eccentric strength is also critical for many actions involved in sports.
Benefits of Eccentric Overload
The goal of accentuated eccentric loading is to achieve potentiation. Potentiation is the increase in strength of nerve impulses along pathways that have been used previously, either short-term or long-term. In other words, we want to increase the eccentric rate of force development.
One benefit of the eccentric muscle action is force absorption, which plays a huge role in any change of direction. For example, as the lead foot makes contact with the ground during the pitching delivery, the body has to absorb the force before the concentric impulse.
Another benefit of eccentric muscle action is elastic spring function utilizing the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). The SSC can be defined as an active stretch (eccentric contraction) of a muscle followed by an immediate shortening (concentric contraction) of that same muscle. In the pitching delivery, the SSC is used during scapular load to unload. The SSC also plays a huge role in sprinting and jumping, and, if you’re interested, we’ve also written more about the SSC in pitching mechanics.
Some other benefits of accentuated eccentric loading include the following: a larger hormonal response that can lead to higher testosterone levels post-training, an increase in cross-sectional area of type IIx muscle fibers, potentially a work capacity benefit, and an opportunity for athletes to retain and build max strength as higher bar velocities to focus on during velocity-based training.
The two main methods of accentuated eccentric loading are supramaximal loading, or more than a one-rep max, and submaximal loading, or less than a one-rep max. Supramaximal loads are best for athletes looking to increase their eccentric rate of force development. This method can be used for increasing strength or to maintain strength while focusing on bar velocity. When using to increase strength, the eccentric load can be ~105% of a one-rep max, whereas the concentric load can be 70-90% of a one-rep max. Research shows that the eccentric rate of force development stays increased for up to two reps after the weight is released. Because of this, sets should be performed as clusters. For example, you could perform one set of two to three reps, rest for 10-15 seconds, put the weight releasers back on back, and then perform two to three more reps.
When the focus shifts to speed work, the eccentric load can be ~105% of a one-rep max, and the concentric load can be 40-60% of a one-rep max. Bar-speed analyzing devices can also be used to determine the load for the concentric based on the speed range desired.
Submaximal eccentric loading is another method that can be used for accentuated eccentric loading. This is where both the eccentric and concentric loads are less than your one-rep max, but the eccentric load is still larger than the eccentric load. This method is best for athletes looking to increase concentric impulse or the speed at which they can switch from an eccentric to concentric movement.
When using submaximal loads, the focus should be on bar velocity. An important detail when deciding what loads to use for the eccentric and concentric phase of the lift is that the eccentric load needs to exceed at least 30% difference from the concentric load to achieve potentiation.
If you don’t have access to weight releasers, other methods to consider include dumbbells, bands, and manual removal.
Dumbbells are a great option for exercises like jumping. Determine what 130% of an athlete’s body weight is, and have him hold dumbbells that make his total weight 130%. For example, 130% of 200 lb. is 260 lb., therefore a 200 lb. athlete would need to hold 30 lb. dumbbells in each hand. When going into the countermovement of a jump, drop the weights before going into the concentric phase of the jump. These can be paired with a heavy lower-body exercise for post-activation potentiation or paired with an exercise when bar velocity is the focus.
Bands can be used for accommodating resistance for exercises like squat, bench, and deadlift. While this is not true eccentric overload, the resistance will be heaviest at the beginning of the eccentric phase and lightest at the beginning of the concentric phase.
Adding tools like bands, med balls, and dumbbells to jumping variations are great for adding extra tension to the movement. This will help an athlete tap into the slow stretch-shortening cycle and give an athlete coming out of a strength phase and going into a speed phase more time to develop force.
When to Program
When prescribing accentuated eccentric loading, it is important to take training economy into consideration. The eccentric phase of an exercise does the most damage to muscle fibers and is often what causes delayed onset muscle soreness. Therefore, when we are overloading or accentuating that phase of the exercise, it can crush an athlete.
We primarily prescribe eccentric overload to athletes during the offseason when their skill-specific training volume is low to moderate. It can be used during velocity or high intensity training phases, but volume should be modified to avoid overtraining. We would not recommend performing accentuated eccentric loading in-season.
Accentuated eccentric loading can be a great tool for advanced athletes, and research has shown that it has some decent benefits: an improved ability to absorb force; an increase in elastic spring for the stretch-shortening cycle, allow athletes to maintain strength as higher velocities become the emphasis; and hormonal and neural benefits as well. Accentuated eccentric loading can be used with supramaximal and submaximal loads and bands and dumbbells can be used if weight releasers are unavailable.
This article was written by High Performance coach Kyle Rogers