THE BENEFITS OF SUPRA-MAXIMAL ECCENTRICS
Eccentric-based training is nothing new. It was first discussed by a German physiologist named Adolf Fick around 1882. Despite the fact that it’s been around a long time, most people focus predominantly on the concentric portion of an exercise and give slow eccentrics not enough attention.
The eccentric segment of an exercise is the portion where the muscle is being lengthened under tension/load such as the lowering of a bench press or the lowering (going down) part of the squat. This is often referred to as the negative. Coming up in the bench press or the squat is referred to as the concentric or the positive.
There’s a lot of research on the eccentric component within the execution of an exercise and I’ll cover some of that, but I mostly want to talk about supra-maximal eccentrics, and that is where you’re lowering a weight with a load that is greater than you can concentrically lift, hence the name supra-max. So if your 1-rep max in the bench press is 200 pounds, anything over 200 would be considered supra-max considering you wouldn’t be able to lift it back up.
In the video two of the guys that train with me are lowering 60 extra pounds on weight releasers (30 pounds on each side). One of the guys is my friend Eddie. The most he lowered in the video was 275 pounds, then the weight releasers came off, and he blasted up 215 pounds. This was done on a 30-degree incline. I posted this video on Facebook and was asked what is Eddie’s 1-rep max in the 30-degree incline bench press. We don’t know exactly what his 1-rep max is with a 30-degree incline press but it’s nowhere near 275 pounds. I believe it’s around 230. We have many exercises that we do here at USI and we don’t test every single one to determine what the 1-rep max would be. This would take way to much time, and therefore, a waste of time due to our limited amount of it. Instead, we measure the concentric speed in meters per second, and this gives us a very good estimate of what percentage someone is lifting based off of their 1-rep max. Here is a screenshot of an athletes speed on their heaviest set that was taken.
We use a Push Band to measure the bar speed, which was .29 meters per second. That is around 95% of their 1-rep max.
SOME BENEFITS OF SUPRA-MAX ECCENTRICS
Slow eccentric tension allows both the muscle spindle and the Golgi tendon organ to adapt and feel greater amounts of stress than what would be applied during a more conventional tempo lift. A more conventional tempo might be around a 2-3-second eccentric. An eccentric-based method that we like to use is around a 6-second eccentric. This stress will improve the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) and thus increase force production by training the elastic system to store and release more energy. In other words, when you adapt to these processes you will get stronger eccentrically and that will carry over into stronger concentric contractions as well. You cannot produce force if you cannot absorb force. Eccentric-based training teaches you how to absorb force so that future training methods designed to teach the body to produce more force will work more effectively.
ECCENTRIC-BASED TRAINING INCREASES STRENGTH: There are quite a few strength coaches from the past and present that claim slow eccentric training is the absolute best training method to improve strength fast.
ECCENTRIC-BASED TRAINING INCREASES MUSCLE GAIN: It’s the eccentric or negative aspect of a movement that causes more muscle damage than the concentric or positive aspect of a movement.
ECCENTRIC-BASED TRAINING IMPROVES POWER DEVELOPMENT: Some research claims that eccentric-based training recruits more Type II, high-threshold/fast twitch motor units. These motor units are important to recruit in order to develop power.
ECCENTRIC-BASED TRAINING STRENGTHENS CONNECTIVE TISSUE: Slow eccentrics cause more muscle damage to the sarcomeres due to the myosin and actin being lengthened under heavy tension, which causes the body to send immune cells to the damaged tissue to clean it up. This causes something referred to as tissue remodeling and makes your tendons and ligaments stronger and more resilient to injuries such as tendonitis or some type of tendinopathy.
This type of training is very taxing on the nervous system and should only be used at the very beginning of your workout and only with compound movements. As far as how long this phase of training should last I sincerely don’t know. As of now, I am taking Cal Dietz advice from his book Triphasic Training and only doing 2 workouts a week for 2 weeks then moving on to something else.
HOW WE UTILIZE SUPRA-MAX ECCENTRICS AT USI
After a progressive warm-up, we put roughly 85-90% of 1 rep max on the bar. Since we may not have actually established a real 1-rep max test on the given exercise we use the Push Band and measure the velocity of the concentric portion of the lift. The velocity as measured in meters per second will give you a good idea of what the percentage is that you are lifting. We are looking at around .4 to .19 meters per second and we are also looking at being able to control the eccentric speed of the lift. So if the exercise is an incline bench press with a 6-second eccentric, we won’t increase the poundage is you cannot keep this 6-second lowering tempo.
On the internet and throughout many books you will see that the eccentric aspect of an exercise can be anywhere from 110-125% of your 1-rep max of total weight. I feel this has a lot to do with how neurologically efficient you are and that comes with how long you’ve been training and perhaps there’s a genetic component involved as well. Beginners should definitely not be doing Supra-Max Eccentrics. At best, A good indication is your training age and your strength level. With beginners, we focus on a controlled eccentric anywhere from 3 to 6 seconds the majority of the time.
References: Cal Dietz
Cal Dietz Triphasic Training