It’s common to see a powerlifter get to the top of a deadlift and then just drop that mutha. The gentle set down doesn’t really exist. I mean, you complete the lift just by standing up, why waste all that energy setting it down under control, right? Olympic lifters drop it from overhead, so I guess using iron plates from thigh high is kind of the same thing?
Hey, I’ve been known to rapidly descend a loaded bar to the floor after crushing a top set or two as well so I’m not throwing shade at these crazy cats. That being said, I hope they involve some eccentric work to pair with all that concentric effort.
There’s a big difference between the concentric and eccentric phases of muscle contraction. Concentric produces the magic, whereas the suck tends to live in eccentrics. Lowering a weight relatively slowly makes you wish for death’s sweet embrace during the process, but can have some significant benefits to hypertrophy, strength development, and rehab, which will talk about today, plus I’ll show you some simple ways to work it into your workouts.
A major benefit to spending some time on eccentrics is the work done into lengthened positions tends to help reduce the likelihood of over-stretch injuries to the muscle tissue in that position. Pollard et al (2019) showed eccentric focused strength exercises like a nordic hamstring curl not only increased strength through the biceps femoris, but also had a positive effect on muscle fascicle length, but upon stopping the eccentrics the fascicle length change reverted back within 1 week of detraining.
Tyler et al (2017) showed in previous hamstring injured subjects, a 3-phase eccentric hamstring protocol had a 92% success rate at preventing future hamstring injuries for up to 2 years after the initial injury. The other 8%? All occurred in athletes who were non-compliant with the rehab protocol.
Siddle et al (2019) found that after completing eccentric training, performance variables improved across the board, but after a deconditioning period, change of direction and sprint performance stayed up while eccentric hamstring strength dropped off. This may indicate a need to put some eccentric work back in following detraining phases or off seasons, even if on-field performance looks awesome.
So how can you incorporate eccentric hamstring exercises into your leg training? There’s a few good options to think on.
Keep the volume relatively low to start. Think 3 sets of 5 for most, as eccentrics can produce some serious DOMS, so if you don’t want to walk like a drunken cowboy for a few days, don’t overdo the volume.
For specific exercises, any that you currently use could work if you spend more time focused on the lowering of the weight under control versus just jamming up as much weight as possible and then calling it a day.
Paused eccentrics work really well too.
You can even do single leg eccentrics with a 2 leg concentric. Here’s an example using a front squat:
And also one using a single leg eccentric on a deadlift:
A more traditional focused eccentric exercises could be something like Nordic Hamstring Curls, or as they call them in Norway, “hamstring curls.”
These are really hard to do with full bodyweight though, and the taller you are the harder they become. A way to reduce the challenge is to wrap a band around your shoulders and chest to help with some stretch response at the bottom, as shown here by Teddy Willsey.
If the band isn’t your cup of tea, this ball rollout version from James Harris is a solid option too:
For something more advanced than this, you could opt for one of the coolest named exercises on the face of the earth, the Razor Curl as shown here by Ben Bruno
To up the ante on this bit of insanity, go off the floor with no pad to lean your thighs on and try to avoid breaking your nose, as shown by Sam Spinelli here:
And anytime you feel like you’re good at something like eccentric hamstring movements, check out this piece of awesomeness:
Give one or two of these a try in your next leg day, but keep the volume low to start so you don’t feel the need to write me angry tweets when you can’t get down to or off of the toilet for the next 6 days or so.