Fighters and their coaches overemphasize the use of concentric training. It makes sense, right? If you want to become stronger and more explosive, you simply need to overcome additional resistance in your fight training.
This basic approach might work for total beginners. But if you're beyond that, you might want to consider training your body in other ways.
Fight Training: Brakes Before Gas
Enter the eccentric contraction. Most people think of it as the lowering or negative phase of the lift. But it's also the type of muscle contraction that forces you to control the resistance you're yielding against so that you don't collapse under it.
It's easier to lower weight rather than lift it, so everyone can become significantly stronger in the eccentric part of an exercise. Speaking in numbers, a trained athlete can become as much as 30-40% stronger in his eccentrics, yet most neglect to do it.
Eccentrics are important for fighters who routinely have to deal with different types of forces coming at them from every possible angle and position.
1. The Eccentric Pistol to Box Squat
A strong lower body is the foundation of any athlete's power production. Fighters often move using a single leg for support, like when kicking, so it makes sense to include single-leg exercises like this:
- Place a box or bench behind you at around knee height.
- Pick up the bar in the front rack position. Holding the weight in front will help you with balance, which is one of the hardest components of the pistol squat.
- Lift one leg off the ground and keep it extended in front. Slowly descend until you sit on the box or bench.
- Now, use both legs to do a standard squat and get back up for the next rep. Finish all reps with the same leg before you switch.
2. Deadlift to Romanian Deadlift
The deadlift will help you pick up your opponent for a takedown like he was made out of cardboard. So for this one, use a conventional stance and make it feel heavier on the way down.
- Assume a conventional deadlift stance. Bend your knees as needed so that your hips are still above them but below your shoulders.
- Keep your spine in a neutral position. Pull your shoulders toward your back pockets, brace your lats and core, and lift the weight from the ground using the classic deadlift technique.
- Extend your knees and hips simultaneously while pushing the ground with your legs. Your hips and shoulders should rise at the same rate. Stand tall at the top but don't overextend your back.
- To bring the bar back down, keep your knees slightly bent, performing most of the move through your hips, not your legs. Keep it slow and steady.
3. The Power Clean
This is a hip-hinge movement that helps with power development and teaches your body to absorb violent forces. A lot of people drop the bar right after they bring it up, eliminating most of the eccentric action. But to get some eccentric benefits, drive the bar back down in a controlled manner on every rep.
- Place your feet hip-width apart.
- Grab the bar as you would in a deadlift with a double overhand grip. (You can use the hook grip if you know how.) Keep the hips above the knees and below the shoulders. Keep your spine neutral. Brace your lats and core.
- The first part of the movement is a standard deadlift. The hips and shoulders should rise at the same rate.
- Keep your heels down and your arms straight until the top of the deadlift, where your hips must extend rapidly. At this point, the barbell will incidentally touch your upper quads on its way up.
- Immediately shrug your shoulders and pull yourself under the bar by transitioning to the front rack position.
- During the transition, think "fast elbows" because you have to get into the receiving position very quickly.
- The bar is received in a partial squat. This receiving position is the first eccentric part of the power clean.
- Complete the movement at full hip and knee extension.
- To bring the load back down, reverse the movement of your elbows, thus unracking the bar and lowering it in a controlled manner. Use your thighs as a touching point to break its fall on the way to the ground. This is the second eccentric part of the movement.
4. The Eccentric Pull-Up
The pull-up requires minimal equipment and works wonders on pulling strength, which should make it a staple for fighters. If you want to overload the negative, minimize the concentric part and just train the eccentric with load.
- If possible, wear a belt with extra weight. Remember, you're not going to lift it, only control it on the way down.
- To ascend effortlessly, use a box or bench as a step.
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip just outside of shoulder-width and push with your leg until your chin is above the bar.
- Take your foot off the bench and descend slowly, fully controlling your weight, until your elbows extend completely.
5. The Eccentric Inverted Row
The demands of fighting are multifaceted, so a fighter should work through all planes of motion to become as strong and functional as possible in all angles. Since the pull-up works strictly on the vertical axis, add the eccentric inverted row, which works on the horizontal axis.
- Place a bar on a rack at about stomach height.
- Get underneath in a supine position, grab it with a slightly wider than shoulder grip, and place your feet on a bench or box, so you're parallel to the ground.
- Have a partner place a light plate on your torso.
- Pull yourself up until the plate almost touches the bar. Make sure you're keeping your body straight and rigid at all times. No hip hinge allowed.
- Have your partner place a dumbbell on top of the plate and start lowering yourself in a controlled manner until your hands are fully extended. Then your partner will remove it so you can easily get back up for the next rep.
6. The Eccentric Dumbbell Floor Press
Fighters should use the floor press because it activates the anterior delts and triceps, which play a key role in punching. Since the range of motion is reduced when compared to the bench press, the pecs are less involved. But this is also why they're protected from injury along with the shoulders. You'll need a partner for this one.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells. Lie on the ground and keep your legs fully extended and wide apart so that the upper body is fully isolated.
- Tuck your elbows into your body. The dumbbells should now be really close to one another.
- Have a partner place a light plate on top of them and push.
- When you reach the top, your partner will need to place a dumbbell on the plate, making the load significantly heavier.
- Lower the weight slowly, and when your elbows touch the ground, have your partner lift the extra weight, allowing you to push up once more for the next rep.
7. The Eccentric Ab Wheel Rollout
A fighter without a strong core is a fragile target. And while it's true that to strike hard and grapple efficiently, you must learn how to produce power through the core, the first step is to teach it how to resist external forces and more easily control them.
The rollout is a staple core exercise that offers tremendous benefits not only because it develops this ability via its anti-flexion component, but also because it helps you understand proper spinal positioning, which transfers to other exercises like deadlifts and squats. It's also extremely easy to overload eccentrically.
- Bend down, grab the wheel, and squeeze your core before you even start the move.
- Extend forward going as far as possible while supporting yourself strictly on your toes.
- When you can't go any further without dropping, put your knees on the ground and get back up by doing the reverse motion. This way, the concentric part becomes much easier and helps you retain your strength for performing more eccentric-focused reps.
8. The Dragonfly
The dragonfly works your entire torso, hip flexors, glutes, and lower back. Even your shoulders are working hard to stabilize the body. It's hard to find exercises that work so many muscle groups at once. It will make you feel like an unbending piece of steel! It's also perfect for developing your eccentric strength.
- Lie face-up on the floor in front of a sturdy rack.
- Grab the rack leg behind you. This will be your anchor point while most of your body will be up in the air.
- Tuck your knees to your chest and kick your legs vertically all the way up towards the sky. Keep your toes pointed. You should now be resting only on your shoulders, your whole body forming a rigid, straight line. Do NOT rest on the back of your neck.
- Brace your core and start descending at an angle, keeping your body straight at all times. Once you reach the point where you can't keep up or your form breaks, stop, drop, shoot your legs up again, and repeat.
- Advanced athletes can also get back up in the opposite direction without touching the floor, but remember, the point here is to work on the negatives, so you want to conserve your energy for doing more of those.
- If it's too hard, simply bend one leg while you're at the top.
9. The Depth Landing
This is a great tool for understanding how to absorb forces from the ground up, which is the most important step to becoming agile and developing great footwork during fights.
- Stand on a plyo box. It can be set as low or high as your level permits.
- Take a step forward and drop towards the ground.
- Land as silently as possible in an athletic position resembling a partial squat, and STICK for a couple of seconds. Sticking is key, so don't neglect it. Prevent your knees from caving in.
- While you land, your weight will tend to be more on the front part of the foot, which is okay, but you shouldn't fall forward or backward.
10. The Drop Jump
These will test your reactive strength: how well you can absorb force and then redirect it in the opposite direction. The purpose is to minimize contact with the ground while maintaining maximum muscle and tendon stiffness, not jump as high as possible. Expect your power output to be submaximal.
- Stand on a plyo box. The height depends on your level.
- Take a step forward and drop.
- Land and try not to bend the knees too much. As soon as you touch the ground, hop upward as fast as humanly possible. Hop, don't jump, because this isn't a maximum height jump.
The Benefits of Eccentric Training
The benefits for fighters include:
- Agility It's the ability to minimize time when changing from one movement pattern to another, like stepping in and out or side to side while facing an opponent. When you're placing your foot on the ground, the first thing you do is absorb the force of the landing. If you're strong enough, you'll be able to propel yourself toward another direction in lightning speed.
- Explosiveness A yielding muscle stores and preloads kinetic energy that can be expressed explosively shortly after. The more storage capacity a muscle has, the greater its acceleration potential gets.
- Injury Prevention Eccentric training causes tendon hypertrophy, making them thicker and more resilient to shock, which in turn makes the fighter less susceptible to injury.
- Resilience When you're getting hit, learning how to absorb energy efficiently also means learning how to better absorb hits, so you run less risk of getting hurt.
- Increased Fast-Twitch Fibers Research suggests that eccentric training protocols will preferably recruit fast-twitch fibers and even cause adaptations toward a more fast-twitch phenotype on a molecular level.
- Experience with Heavy Weight It boosts your confidence when lifting heavy. On the other hand, it desensitizes the Golgi tendon organ, which enables you to express more force without necessarily adding muscle mass.
- Proper Technique Reinforcement When performing a move slowly, you'll automatically be more mindful of technique, so superior motor control is ingrained in the brain and nervous system.
- Increased Muscle Mass The eccentric contraction causes plenty of muscle damage, so it's a good option if you're after some hypertrophy. Just be aware that it also comes with plenty of soreness.
- Maintained Strength Gains Strength gains made via eccentric training tend to last for more extended periods of time, which proved invaluable for athletes who lost access to the gym during the lockdown era.
Programming: How and When To Use This
If you don't compete, it's best to emphasize one type of contraction per week. Do one week with an eccentric emphasis, the next with an isometric emphasis, and the following with concentric emphasis. Remember, isometric strength is pretty important for fighters too.
When you're preparing for a fight, plan your eccentrics at the start of your heaviest training cycle but far away from competition – around 12 weeks out, for a duration of 2-3 weeks max.
If it's strength you're after, plan your sets and reps according to classic strength programming standards. Do 4-6 sets of 3-6 reps per exercise, with the maximum possible weight, of course.
For hypertrophy, do 3-4 of 8-12 reps. If you're into pure bodybuilding instead, check out this in-depth analysis of eccentric training for bodybuilding purposes. Take no more than five seconds for each eccentric rep. Any more than that probably means that your weight is too light, so use a heavier load.
The power clean and plyometrics should be programmed before any strength exercises. The nervous system has to be as fresh as possible to provide maximum power output. Do 4-6 sets of 2-3 reps at about 70-80% of your 1-rep max. Rest as needed between sets. Attack each one with full intent and without fatigue.
For the plyo (depth landing and drop jump), do 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps max, and take plenty of rest between sets. To progress, go for a higher starting point as long as your landing remains technically sound, and you feel you're in control.
For the core exercises, the eccentric ab wheel rollout and the dragonfly, go for 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps. To progress, aim to do every rep slower. Leave those for the last part of your workout.
For beginners, start by doing only a couple of eccentric exercises per workout. The neurological demand is massive, and you'd best expect plenty of soreness which might inhibit your ability to train for the next few days if you're not careful.
If you take care of your eccentrics, your overall performance will explode. However, eccentric training isn't a magic pill for quick gains. It takes time and consistency to see the results, but they're worth it.