hxdbzxy/ShutterstockThe next time you’re sweating it out in the weight room, aside from avoiding these common weight-lifting mistakes, you might want to switch up your technique a little. According to two studies from Finland’s University of Jyväskylä (recently published in Frontiers in Physiology and Physiological Reports), the most beneficial part of strength training is actually lowering the weight, rather than lifting it.
“Humans have a greater ability to produce force when lowering (eccentric) a load compared to lifting (concentric) it. So it seems logical to train with greater eccentric loads than those used during the concentric phase of the lift. Unfortunately, this does not happen in traditional resistance training,” study author Simon Walker, PhD, told ScienceDaily.
Some participants in the studies trained the traditional way (using the same load for both lowering and lifting phases), and others trained with greater loads in the lowering phase than the lifting phase. The traditional resistance-trainers gained benefit to their maximum eccentric strength, and improved endurance in their legs. However, their strength gains stopped after five weeks of following the program. By comparison, the accentuated eccentric group demonstrated large increases in hormone concentrations at week nine—a much faster response than the resistance-trainers.
“Chronic resistance-training using the same methods will lead to a plateau in performance gains,” explains Walker. “It seems that using accentuated eccentric loads provided a greater stimulus for our trainers. The hormone results suggest that the strenuousness imposed by the training stimulus continued for a longer period of time.” The researchers believe that the eccentric group’s strength improvements were due to a greater mental effort being required to control the lowering of the heavy loads. (Here’s how to lift weights and do cardio to boost your fat burn.)
So how can you take advantage of these findings? One of the simplest ways to work in eccentric moves is to slow down the lowering phase of any move, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. If you’re doing pushups, take four to six seconds to lower yourself to the ground, and two seconds to push up. Lunges? Take four to six seconds to sink into the lunge, and two seconds to press back up to a standing position. If you’re using a weight machine or free weights, just remember that it’s when you’re lowering the weight that you want to slow down—letting the bar come to your chest during a bench press, or dropping the dumbbell to your thigh during a curl—to maximize that eccentric movement.
nd3000/ShutterstockAlthough you get greater benefits from eccentric workouts, fitness coach Andrew Beatty, writing on BreakingMuscle.com, recommends incorporating eccentric training into your weight-lifting program periodically. “Incorporate it into your program periodically to stimulate modest increases in your strength,” he says. “Remember, although you save energy during eccentrics, you are still doing huge amounts of damage to your muscle fibers.” That’s a good thing once in a while, he says: Repairing those fibers is how your body builds muscle. “Done correctly, you should expect to get stronger faster.”
Before you hit the dumbbells, check out the subtle changes that happen to your body when you start lifting weights.