An eccentric contraction is the motion of an active muscle while it is lengthening under load. Eccentric training is repetitively doing eccentric muscle contractions. For example, in a biceps curl the action of lowering the dumbbell back down from the lift is the eccentric phase of that exercise — as long as the dumbbell is lowered slowly rather than letting it drop (i.e., the biceps are in a state of contraction to control the rate of descent of the dumbbell).
An eccentric contraction is one of the distinct phases in the movement of muscles and tendons; they include isometric contraction (no movement), isotonic contraction and concentric contraction (shortening).
Eccentric training focuses on slowing down the elongation of the muscle process in order to challenge the muscles, which can lead to stronger muscles, faster muscle repair and increasing metabolic rate.
Eccentric movement provides a braking mechanism for muscle and tendon groups that are experiencing concentric movement to protect joints from damage as the contraction is released.
Eccentric training is particularly good for casual and high performance athletes or the elderly and patients looking to rehabilitate certain muscles and tendons.
This movement has also been described as negative training. This "negative" movement is necessary to reverse the muscle from its initial trajectory.
When load exceeds the force that can be developed by the muscle at constant length, as in an eccentric muscle action, the exercise is referred to as involving negative work, because the muscle is absorbing energy.
Eccentric contractions use less metabolic energy, even though they can create more force than concentric actions.
Adolf Fick originally discovered in 1882 that "contracting muscle under stretch could produce greater force than a shortening muscle contraction" like in concentric movements. Fifty years later, A.V. Hill determined that "the body had lower energy demand during an eccentric muscle contraction than during a concentric muscle action".
Erling Asmussen first introduced eccentric training in 1953 as "excentric", with ex meaning "away from" and centric meaning "center". Hence, the term was coined to mean a muscle contraction that moves away from the center of the muscle.
But the first revelation of the functional significance of these properties occurred by way of a clever demonstration devised by Bud Abbott, Brenda Bigland, and Murdoch Ritchie. They connected two stationary cycle ergometers back-to-back with a single chain, such that one cyclist pedaled forward and the other resisted this forward motion by braking the backward-moving pedals. Because the internal resistance of the device was low, the same force was being applied by both individuals, yet the task was much easier for the individual braking. This demonstration cleverly revealed that a tiny female resisting the movement of the pedals could easily exert more force than, and hence control the power output of, a large burly male pedaling forward.
During the eccentric phase of movement, the muscle absorbs energy. This work is done "by stretching the muscle and in this process the muscle absorbs mechanical energy".
This mechanical energy is dissipated or converted into one or a combination of two energies.
The energy that is absorbed by the muscle will be dissipated as heat if the muscle is being used as a "damper or shock absorber". This leads to increase in body temperature.
The energy that is absorbed by the muscle can be converted into elastic recoil energy, and can be recovered and reused by the body. This creates more efficiency because the body is able to use the energy for the next movement, decreasing the initial impact or shock of the movement.
For example, kinetic energy is absorbed in running every time one's foot strikes the ground and continues as one's mass overtakes the foot. At this moment, elastic recoil energy is at its maximum and a large amount of this energy is absorbed and is added to the next stride.
This movement is similar to the action of springs, where the muscle is continually shortened and stretched resulting in enhanced effectiveness and force. It can lead to the perception of "less effort" even though dealing with higher force.
But time matters in elastic recoil. If this energy is not used quickly it is dissipated as heat. The role of eccentric training is to use these principles of energy conversion to strengthen muscle and tendon groups.
The muscle has "tension producing tissue comprising small contractile units referred to as sarcomeres" that each contain a "thick (myosin) and thin (actin) myofilament (muscle filaments or proteins) that overlaps to format a cross-bridge bond (attachment)".
When in a concentric exercise, shortening of a muscle occurs as the myosin and actin cross bridges repeatedly attach and detach to draw the actin across the myosin — creating force. Each cross-bridge attachment and detachment cycle is powered by the splitting of one molecule of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Examples of such exercises include kicking a ball or lifting a weight.
In controlled release reversals of such concentric motions, the eccentric movement stretches the muscle with opposing force that is stronger than the muscle force. When myofilaments of the muscle fiber are stretched in such eccentric contractions there can be reduced numbers of detachments of cross bridge myosin and actin links. With more cross bridges remaining attached there is greater force production in the muscle. Examples of activities involving eccentric muscle contraction include walking down a hill or resisting the force of gravity while lowering a heavy object.
"Eccentric actions place a stretch on the sarcomeres to the point where the myofilaments may experience strain, otherwise known as exercise induced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)" (Aaron Bubbico & Len Kravitz, 2010). One area of research that has much promise in relation to DOMS and eccentric exercise is the repeated-bout effect (RBE). To help prevent or lessen DOMS from eccentric exercise, or to facilitate recovery from it, the exerciser would eccentrically stimulate the muscle then repeat at weekly intervals to build up strength and allow the strain (in response to a given force level) to reduce over time.
Eccentric contractions are a frequent cause of muscle injury when engaging in unaccustomed exercise. But a single bout of such eccentric exercise leads to adaptation which will make the muscle less vulnerable to injury on subsequent performance of the eccentric exercise.
Several key findings have been researched regarding the benefits of eccentric training:
Eccentric exercise or resistance training is currently being used as a form of rehabilitation for sport injuries, but also as an alternative form of exercise for the elderly, those affected by neurological disorders, COPD, cardiopulmonary disorders, and cancer. Muscle loss is a big problem faced by the people afflicted with the above disorders and many cannot participate in rigorous exercise protocols. Eccentric muscle contractions produce high forces with low-energy cost. According to Hortobágyi due to these properties eccentric exercise has the greatest potential for muscle strengthening. To strengthen muscle the external force must exceed the muscle while it lengthens. The definition of eccentric contraction is almost the exact definition of muscle strengthening.
Perceived muscle damage: There is a stipulation regarding eccentric contractions in that they actually cause muscle damage and injury. Eccentric contraction may result in delayed onset muscle soreness however; the contraction itself does not cause muscle damage or injury.
Proof of muscle strengthening without damage: One recurring problem in ACL rehabilitation is improving muscle strength of the quadriceps without re-injury. Early, high-force eccentric training can be used to increase muscle strength and volume without damage to the ACL graft, surrounding soft-tissue, and the articular cartilage. In an experiment performed on rat muscles after twenty sessions of treadmill low intensity eccentric training the wet weight of the muscles and the fiber cross-section were significantly larger than the control and level groups. These results led to the conclusion that low intensity eccentric contractions have the ability to "produce enough mechanical stress to induce muscle hypertrophy without over-stressing which could produce muscle fiber damage. Other articles have found that muscle damage is not required to reach hypertrophy. Greater mechanical stress brought on by eccentric contractions is what leads to hypertrophy in individuals undergoing eccentric training. Studies done on the elderly show that low-intensity eccentric conditioning can actually minimize muscle damage According to Gault the low cost of energy, and low oxygen demand make low-intensity eccentric exercise ideal for the elderly.
Eccentric contraction and oxygen consumption: Oxygen consumption is needed for muscles to work properly. Eccentric muscle contractions are considered to be negative work as the muscle is working with resistance. Negative work is the mechanical energy absorbed by the work conducted on a muscle when the force on the muscle is greater than the force produced. An experiment was conducted on bicycle riding. The amount of oxygen consumption was measured during the motion of pedaling forward as positive work and pedaling with resistance as negative work. Less oxygen was consumed during negative work then that of positive work with the oxygen consumption ratio being 3:7. Due to the low oxygen consumption of eccentric exercise studies have been conducted on patients with severe COPD. An eccentric cycling exercise workout was created for these patients and the results found there to be no side effects, minimal muscle soreness that had no effect on power, and a high compliance. Furthermore, other cycling studies concluded that eccentric cycling was a safe alternative for COPD patients as they can perform high intensity work with lower cost.
Eccentric contractions and cardiac output: With lower cost of oxygen how would eccentric exercise affect the heart? A study was performed to test how eccentric and concentric contractions effect cardiac autonomic modulation after exercise. Men (aged 18–30) were divided into four groups: concentric control, eccentric control, concentric training, and eccentric training. Results concluded that resistance training (eccentric contractions) promoted strength gain. An increase in cardiac vagal modulation during recovery was also concluded.
A lot of studies have been conducted regarding eccentric exercise over the last decade. It can be said there is substantial evidence that eccentric exercise truly exceeds concentric exercise for rehabilitation and training aspects in force, energy cost, oxygen consumption, and muscular strengthening.
With eccentric training, muscles are able to create more for less work, which has special meaning in the realms of high performance sports — both for injury prevention and optimal-performance training. For athletes and sports enthusiasts, this eccentric model can help with explosive force training in order to prevent injuries or recurring injuries, and trains the body to use the kinetic force driven by eccentric training more efficiently. Canadian Olympian Kim St-Pierre uses eccentric training as part of her regime. The Esmonde Technique takes eccentric training and makes it available to the masses through Classical Stretch and Essentrics. After having hip surgery in the summer of 2007, St-Pierre began to practice the Esmonde Technique with experts Miranda Esmonde-White from PBS’s Classical Stretch and Sahra Esmonde-White host of the Essentrics workout in order to heal her hip.
According to tests, increases in both strength and muscle fiber are higher in eccentric training than in traditional concentric training.
The rehabilitative nature, low energy costs, high magnitudes of force, and low uptake of oxygen all align eccentric exercise for both the elderly and rehabilitative functions.
In old age, loss of strength and muscle mass is commonplace. Add to these factors disease and cardiac and respiratory illness. Eccentric training enables the elderly, and those with the same problems, the ability to train muscle groups and increase strength and resiliency with low-energy exercise.
Eccentric training has been found to be beneficial to those with a variety of physical ailments.
According to one systematic review and meta-analysis on shoulder impingement syndrome, eccentric training didn't improve pain or function more than other types of training.
Tearing an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee causes serious damage that can last several years and often requires surgery. The ACL is one of the four main stabilizing ligaments of the knee. During the post-operative rehabilitation of patients, eccentric training can be used as a cornerstone of developing muscle size and strength. According to tests conducted by J. Parry Gerber in 2007, structural changes in the muscles greatly exceeded those achieved with standard concentric rehabilitation. The success of the involvement of gradual progressive exposure to negative work ultimately led to the production of high muscle force.
Sarcopenia is the progressive loss of muscle mass due to aging. Muscle mass begins to deteriorate as early as the age of 25, and consistently deteriorates into old age. By the age of 80 "one half of the skeletal muscle has been lost" (Lastayo, Woolf, Lewek, Snyder-Mackler, Reich & Lindstedt, 2003). With this great decrease in mass, strength is also decreased. Eccentric training has the ability to counteract sarcopenia through sustained training. The unique trait of greater overloads to the muscle with less strenuous impact on the body, as well as cardiac and respiratory systems, offers a unique case for the elderly. The high-force and low-cost set of attributes in eccentric exercise makes it ideal for the actively impaired.
The entire muscle-tendon system works cohesively to slow down limb movement. The close relationship between the muscle and tendons help to dissipate heat or temporarily store kinetic energy. If the forces needed to slow down a limb exceed the capacity of the muscle-tendon system, injury is likely to occur.
Athletes with recurring hamstring and abductor muscle injuries have greater impairment of eccentric strength, suggesting that improvements in eccentric training may minimize the risks of injury by strengthening the muscle-tendon groupings in high-stress areas of the body.
Eccentric training is of huge benefit to those that wish to avert injuries by improving the muscles abilities to absorb more energy before deteriorating. According to one article, "Increased stiffness in tendons, greater force at failure, and an improved ability to absorb energy at the musculotendonous junction result following eccentric exercise training".
Usually viewed as a precursor to osteoporosis, osteopenia is when bone density is lower than normal levels. Bone mass is affected by muscles forces and their loads to the bone structure. The strength and density of the bone is directly influenced by local strain. Due to the high strain on muscles during eccentric training, coupled with low energy output, eccentric training becomes a cornerstone of the rehabilitative process.
Intense repetitive activities tend to create chronic tendon disorders, where the tendons become injured, inflamed or ruptured. While typically these disorders are directly related to eccentric muscle movements, the ability for a muscle to strengthen and prevent injury through eccentric training is great. Controlled rehabilitative regimes will actually strengthen and repair tendons. Ample evidence supports the notion that the tendon, like the muscle, can adapt favorably to physical stress and eccentric loads.
It has been deduced that high muscle tendon forces delivered in a controlled environment are needed for optimal tendon adaptation. While eccentric stress is related to the injury, high force eccentric exercises are needed to maximize recovery.
A condition that arises when the tendon and the tissues that surround it, become inflamed and irritated. This is usually due to overuse, especially from jumping activities. This is the reason chronic patellar tendonitis is often called "jumper’s knee." A study done by Roald Bahr and colleagues looked at which method of tendon rehabilitation exercise — the "eccentric squat" exercise or the universal gym "leg extension/leg curl" — produced more recovery results in terms of recovery in the treatment of chronic patellar tendonitis. On the twelve-week exercise program, participants were tested for thigh circumference and quadriceps and hamstring moment of force. There was no significant difference between the groups in either quadriceps or hamstring moment of force and hamstring moment of force significantly increased in both groups, but the eccentric squat saw significantly lower pain ratings and produced twice as many "pain free" subjects at the end of the program than the other group.
Several recent studies have indicated that eccentric exercise as in walking down hill has greater beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity, lipid profiles and physical fitness than walking up hill. One study used stairs and elevators  and the other a mountain and a cable car. In both cases the cardiovascular improvements were greater for being lifted up and walking down that for walking up and being lowered down.