Use Eccentric Lifts to Increase Size and Strength

STACK Expert John Cissik offers 5 eccentric exercises and sample workouts incorporating them to enhance your strength.

Eccentric training—exercises that lengthen the muscles—is extremely important for strength, power and injury prevention in athletes. The kind of strength that can be developed with eccentric lifts is a key part of the stretch-shortening cycle, resulting in more explosive movements. It helps you maintain control of the bar when lowering it during a max attempt. It's also important for maintaining posture during sprinting, jumping, landing, stopping, changing directions, throwing and kicking.

As if that were not enough, the role of eccentric training in landing and sprinting can help prevent non-contact ACL injuries and hamstring strains.

Eccentric Squats

We're using the example of a Back Squat, but this exercise can be done with any variation of the Squat.

Set up for a Back Squat with the bar on the back of your shoulders, your chest out, shoulders back, feet hip-width to shoulder-width apart and weight on your heels.

From the start position, descend slowly by pushing your hips back and flexing your knees. Take 10 slow seconds to descend to the bottom of the Squat. From the bottom position, reverse directions explosively until you are standing back up again. Repeat.

As you descend, it's important to keep your back tight. You will get tired quickly, so it's important to focus on technique. Perform no more than six repetitions per set for three to five sets. We normally begin this exercise with around 50 percent of your 1-RM.

Nordic Hamstring Curls

This exercise requires no equipment, but a partner can be extremely helpful.

Kneel on the ground and maintain a straight line from your head to your knees. Your body should make an "L."

Secure your ankles or have your partner hold them down. Place your hands behind your head or across your chest. Maintaining that straight line from your head to your knees and keeping your lower legs and feet on the ground, relax your hamstrings and lower your body forward toward the ground. Take as long as you can to reach the ground. Catch yourself with your hands and push yourself up. Repeat for three to five sets of no more than six repetitions. Make sure your hamstrings are warmed up before you begin.

Eccentric Bench Press

This exercise is performed exactly like the Bench Press, with one important difference. Take 19 or more seconds to lower the bar to your chest. Touch your chest with the bar, then explosively press it off your chest.

This exercise will improve your ability to lower the bar under control, allowing you to stay in the groove during heavy Bench Press attempts. Perform  three to five sets of no more than six repetitions. Begin with no more than 50 percent of your 1-RM. This is a very tiring exercise.

Weighted Pull-Ups

This variation of the Pull-Up is only for people who can do 10 regular Pull-Ups without help. To perform it, you need the ability to perform Pull-Ups with extra weight, either from a special dip belt or by holding a dumbbell between your ankles.

Secure the weight. Grip the pull-up bar and jump up to begin the exercise with your chin over the bar. From this position, lower yourself slowly, taking as long as possible to reach the bottom position. Fight to resist gravity!

It's not unusual for someone to take a minute on the first repetition and 20 seconds on the second. Fatigue hits quickly. Normally, this exercise is performed for three sets of three to five repetitions. Begin with a weight equivalent to 10-15 percent of your body weight and add more weight when it gets easier.

Decline Sit-up

This exercise has fallen out of favor in recent years, but it is still effective. Decline Sit-Ups are performed with the feet higher than the head. Secure your feet and begin in the up position with your arms folded across your chest. Pull your shoulders back, stick your chest out and maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your hips. Holding a heavy dumbbell or weight plate across your chest, lower yourself back down, taking as long as you can while maintaining that straight line. Sit up and attempt another repetition. Continue for three to five sets of three to five repetitions. Begin this exercise holding 10-15 percent of your body weight.

Program Design

These exercises are tiring and cause a great deal of soreness after a workout. Thus, you should incorporate no more than one of them into each training session. Below is a sample week of workouts that shows you how to use these exercises.

Day One

  • Power Clean: 3x3-6 @ 60-70%
  • Front Squats: 3x6-10 @ 70-80%
  • Romanian Deadlifts: 3x6-10
  • Nordic Hamstring Curls: 3x4-6
  • Planks: 3x1 minute

Day Two

  • Push Jerk: 3x3-6 @ 60-70%
  • Bench Press: 3x6-10 @ 70-80%
  • Eccentric Bench Press: 3x3-6 @ 50%
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3x6-10
  • Triceps: 3x8-12
  • Decline Sit-Ups: 3x4-6 @ 10% body weight

Day Three


Day Four

  • Power Snatch: 3x3-6 @ 60-70%
  • Back Squats: 3x6-10 @ 70-80%
  • Eccentric Back Squats: 3x3-6 @ 50%
  • Good Mornings: 3x6-10
  • Side Planks: 3x1 minute each side

Day Five

  • Pull-Ups: 3xmax
  • Eccentric Pull-Ups: 3x3-6 @ 10% of bodyweight
  • Bent-Over Rows: 3x6-10
  • Biceps: 3x8-12
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 3x12-15

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