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Eccentric Isometrics

Are you struggling with form breakdown under high loads? Have you noticed little injuries creeping up here and there after a hard workout? Has your strength plateaued? If you answered yes to any of these questions, I have good news; there is a relatively simple (not easy) solution that can solve all of these.

Eccentric Isometrics. What on earth is eccentric isometrics you ask? It’s simple really; eccentric isometrics is the slow, controlled movement of the negative (lowering) phase of an exercise with a slight pause at the bottom of the lift before the explosion upwards. Exercises like tempo squats and pause squats are prime examples of this. What exactly are the benefits to this type of movement?

First, and probably most important, is the enhanced stability and symmetry through an increase in proprioception. During the eccentric phase of a lift, the muscles are stretched and it is during this stretch that the muscle spindles are working to provide the most feedback relating to body positioning and motor unit control. This is when the body has an opportunity to self-correct any muscle imbalances that have been created through traditional concentric training. Incorporating a slight pause or hold (~2-4 seconds) at the bottom of each lift also helps increase your muscle memory by ensuring that a natural, full range of motion is being met. Increasing muscle memory for lifts is critically important when trying to maintain proper form and range of motion under heavy loads. Most lifting injuries occur due to a form breakdown which is almost always caused from fatigue under heavy load.

The second, and probably most popular reason to incorporate this type of training into your regimen, is the increase in time under tension (TUT). Slowly controlling the eccentric phase of the lift increases your muscle’s time under tension which is one of the foundations of hypertrophy gains (more muscle). While most normal lifts take around 20-30 seconds to complete each set, tempo eccentric sets can take anywhere from 40-60 seconds which means your muscles are doubling the amount of stress they would ordinarily experience which, in turn, leads to more muscle breakdown, more slow twitch muscle fiber recruitment, and more anabolic hormone release.

As a result of this increase in time under tension, be cognizant of the weights and rep scheme you choose to use. Considering the TUT is double that of a normal exercise, a rep range from 2-6 is highly recommended; choose a weight that is challenging and practice lowering the weight for a 4 count, pause at the bottom for a 2 count, and explode up for a 1 count. Remember, this style of training is more about the quality of the reps and not the quantity. The goal is to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible to enhance muscle breakdown and increase proprioception, not exhaust the muscles or lift a maximal load.

Whether your goal is an increase in muscle mass, fixing asymmetries that have developed over time, or simply just an increase in strength and power, incorporating tempo lifts and eccentric isometric movements should be a critical component to any workout program.
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