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The Eccentric portion of an exercise is when the muscle is being lengthened (i.e. when you are descending into a squat, when you are lowering a barbell to your chest during a bench press, when your knee lowers to the ground during a lunge or split squat). Your muscles are nearly twice as strong during this portion; meaning you can lower twice as much weight as you can squat or press. The concentric portion of an exercise is when the muscle contracts and is shortened. As a coach, we can prescribe different eccentric and concentric tempos to target different training effects.
Slow Eccentrics (2-5 seconds) and end-range pauses
serve multiple purposes:
1.) Increase time under tension and allow for a different method of overload than simply adding more weight, sets, or reps
Time under tension is the duration that a muscle is under strain during a set. If you’ve been performing 3 sets of 10 goblet squats at a consistent one second down, no pause, one second up tempo, without increasing the amount of weight you’re squatting with, you can increase the difficulty of the exercise by performing those same 3 sets of 10 but with a two second down, one second pause, one second up tempo. This will essentially double the length of the set from about 20 seconds to 40 seconds. On paper the sets and reps will look the same, but your quadriceps are increasingly challenged and the demand on your core is greater as it has to maintain spinal stability for twice as long.
2.) Clean up technique
It is very difficult to squat slowly, control the movement, and pause at the bottom when you are not in the correct positions. It can also allow you to really hone in on a certain technique cue during a movement like a squat (i.e. drive knees out over toes, screw your heels into the ground, maintain an upright torso). This heightened focus can also improve your mind-muscle connection; an idea that when you’re able to focus on the targeted muscle during an exercise and feel it contract, the stimulus for growth is greater.