Perhaps you've heard the expression: It's not what you do, but how you do it, that matters. Nowhere is this more true than in the gym. There are endless ways you can manipulate a single exercise to build muscle.. Isometric holds, cluster sets, partial reps, sets to failure and beyond.. slow eccentrics, etc etc ad infinitum.
However, if there's one variable you can control that will have the biggest impact on building slabs of muscle, it would have to be Tempo. In particular, the tempo of the eccentric part of the lift (the "way down" in a bench press or curl, or the "way up" in a Lat Pulldown.)
Let's take a look at how slow eccentrics can speed up muscle growth (hypertrophy), and give some specific examples you can implement into your training to harness their power.
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Longer Time Under Tension
Simply stated.. Slowing down the eccentric portion of a lift will result in a much longer set.. often upwards of 60 seconds or longer of suffering.
Time Under Tension is often touted as the primary driver of muscle hypertrophy. This is not necessarily true, and it is simply ONE factor that can influence protein synthesis. I want to be clear that slow eccentrics are a tool, not some supreme method of training..
If you're performing 3 sets of 15 Biceps curls at the end of your training session, performing them with a slow, 4-5 second eccentric will feel a LOT different and will have a stronger training effect in regards to hypertrophy.
All science aside, it's simply a more challenging set. The muscle fibers are under stress/tension for much longer and having to work much harder. Given the soreness people often have after performing reps this way, there's clearly an added stimulus being presented to the body.
One study by Pope Et al (2015) observed that 4 weeks of using nothing but eccentric reps resulted in significant gains in muscle cross sectional area.
I can also personally attest that adding this element into my (and my clients') training for a 6 week training cycle gave me noticeable hypertrophy in the Shoulders and Triceps, where I used slow eccentric reps.
The Law of Accomodation
The Law of Accomodation is an important training principle. It states that: "Constantly repeating the same type of training will eventually lead to diminishing returns."
With this in mind, you can see that adding in a new method like slow eccentric reps can be a way to avoid the law of accomodation and keep your body in a state of adaptation and growth.
Sometimes things don't have to be complicated. At the end of the day, it can actually be pretty simple.
If you currently perform all of your reps with no regard to tempo at all, and simply blast through your sets.. introducing slowed down eccentric reps will be a new stimulus to the body.
Thus, you will likely get a strong response from the training method, until your body becomes well adapted and "used to" the eccentric reps. You will probably be very sore from performing reps this way, which is another indication that something different and "new" is being presented to the body.
Below are some example of how you can implement slow eccentrics into your training routine. I'll give some of my favorite movements that have worked for me and my athletes/clients.
Eccentric Lateral Raises:
These are tough. Perform DB lateral raises, with a 4-5 second eccentric on every rep. Keep a slight bend in the arms. To get in additional reps, you can "cheat" the weight up a bit in order to get a few extra eccentric reps.
Start with 3 sets of 8-12 reps and aim lighter than you'd normally go. From there you can work on hitting more sets/reps and bumping the weight up.
Fat Bar Reverse Curl w/Slow Eccentric
Using a fat bar or Fat-Gripz makes these especially challenging. With a reverse grip, curl the bar up, then slowly lower back down, looking for a 4-5 second eccentric. An empty barbell will probably be plenty here to start out with. Shoot for sets of 10-12 reps paired with another Biceps movement like hammer curls or incline curls done at regular tempo.
DB Triceps Extensions With Slow Eccentric
Keeping the upper arms vertical or angled slightly back, lower the DB's down towards your head, looking to feel a stretch in the Triceps at the bottom. Looking for about a 4-5 second eccentric on every rep. Shoot for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps and go from there.
Single Arm Barbell Curl With Slow Eccentric
The added challenge of having to balance the barbell in one hand makes these even more challenging. Looking for a long, slow eccentric of 6-8 seconds. I like these as a finisher or as a way to sneak in some volume for the Biceps on a different training day during the week.
As with all training methods, this is a tool you can carry to maximize your time spent training.
It's important to note that this method is likely not very good for strength purposes (although it can have some positive impacts on strength, such as increased tendon strength and better movement efficiency and mind-muscle connection).
You're primarily stimulating Type 1 Fibers with the longer, slower sets and increased TUT. To maximize results, this should be combined with some heavier, more explosive work.
If you want to have this and more programmed in for you and have a roadmap to big results, check out my 10 week JACKED AF Program available through the TrainHeroic app. It's a badass program that will get you, well... jacked af.
Thanks for being here. I hope this helps you on your journey towards your best self.