Saturday, May 6, 2017

Eccentric Exercises

I was talking with a patient of mine earlier who exercised by climbing up and going down the stairs at his 40 storey flat while carrying a 16 kg backpack. He knew about my past results climbing stairs and wanted to know why walking down a flight of stairs seems to be more effective at building his muscle strength than walking up the same flight of stairs.

Going down the stairs with his 16 kg backpack meant he had to really control his step and lower himself down slowly rather than just letting himself go. This meant that he was doing an eccentric exercise.

Say you want to train your biceps (arm muscles). When you bring the dumbbell up, the muscle is shortening, that is also known as a concentric muscle action. If you lower the dumbbell slowly (which is more difficult), the muscle is lengthening or an eccentric muscle action.

Eccentric exercises are more demanding on the muscles and fatigues then far more than concentrically. It also damages (or breaks down the muscle) to a greater extent, so there is greater stimulation and subsequent growth.

Try this if you want get better leg strength in a shorter time. Bend your legs more deeply when going down stairs of hills. Your legs will be sore from DOMs or delayed onset of muscle soreness. Once your muscles recover (after a few days), they'll be stronger and it will require much more eccentric exercises to get the same effect.

In fact, this was exactly what researchers found in a group of elderly men with chronic heart failure. Going down stairs appeared to be easier and more pleasant compared to the climbing stairs which the subjects found to be more demanding.

Changes in muscle strength were similar or even greater when going down stairs compared to going up stairs after six weeks of training.

To put this into practice, try bending your legs more deeply when going down stairs or slopes, lower your body more slowly doing push ups or pull ups. You'll be amazed at the results ..... after recovering from  the soreness.


Theodoru AA, Panayiotou G et al (2013). Stair Descending Exercise Increases Muscle Strength In Elderly Males With Chronic Heart Failure. BMC Res Notes. 6:87. DOI: 10.1186/1756-005-6-87.

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