You've probably heard of accentuated eccentric loading. And you may have thought, "Yeah, that's just a fancy term for negative training – lowering a weight slowly." Well, yes and no. It's actually a strategy where you increase resistance during the eccentric (negative) phase of each rep. You do it by mechanically altering an exercise mid-rep.
For example, do a dumbbell bench press on the way up (concentric phase), then transition smoothly into a dumbbell chest flye on the way down (eccentric phase).
You can also do the concentric half of a machine exercise with two limbs (bilaterally), then do the eccentric with one limb (unilaterally). For example, do the "up" portion of a leg extension with both legs, remove one leg at the top, then lower the weight with just that remaining leg.
You can increase the workload on each set and make it easier to hit the stress thresholds necessary to stimulate meaningful adaptation. You can experience similar or greater strength gains with accentuated eccentric loading if programmed appropriately than with standard loading parameters (1, 2). These gains probably come from neurological adaptations.
Whenever you're training at a really high intensity and producing a large amount of force, you'll recruit a ton of motor units and fire them pretty quickly (3). When comparing this style of training to standard training methods, the amount of time your muscles spend contracting at a high intensity is far greater, meaning tons of motor units will fire quickly for a longer period of time. You'll end up feeling a bit more fatigued, but it'll trigger some awesome strength gains.
Let's go over some other exercise pairings, then I'll break down the details.
There are plenty of ways you can pair exercises together when performing accentuated eccentrics, but these are easy to do and very effective.
Movement Target: Pressing
- Concentric: Dumbbell Bench Press
- Eccentric: Dumbbell Close-Grip Chest Press
Movement Target: Pulling
- Concentric: Dumbbell Rear Delt Row
- Eccentric: Dumbbell Rear Delt Flye
- Concentric: Dumbbell Hammer Curl
- Eccentric: Dumbbell Reverse Curl
Movement Target: Squatting
- Concentric: Bilateral Leg Press
- Eccentric: Unilateral Leg Press
- Concentric: Bilateral Lying Leg Curl
- Eccentric: Unilateral Lying Leg Curl
Movement Target: Hinging
- Concentric: Bilateral Smith Machine Hip Thrust
- Eccentric: Unilateral Smith Machine Hip Thrust
Why not the deadlift? With supramaximal loads, the torque it places on your lumbar spine isn't favorable. It's best to use accentuated eccentric loading to improve the strength of muscles involved in producing this movement pattern more indirectly.
- Think of one or more lifts where your strength has been stalling.
- Identify three training days each week during the first three weeks of your next training cycle that have the lowest training volume.
- Choose one exercise pairing that targets a muscle involved in a big lift you'd like to improve.
- Replace your accessory exercises on those training days with your accentuated eccentric loading movement pairs. If you didn't plan on performing accessory work, just add these movements at the end of your workout.
- Determine the concentric 1RM of the movement you're planning to do for the eccentric phase. For example, if you plan to do the dumbbell bench press and flye combo, find your 1RM for the flye – the part of the rep you'll be lowering.
- Choose a load equal to about 105% of your concentric 1RM for the eccentric movement only. In other words, you're going to be lowering a weight that you can't lift.
- Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Increase load by 2.5% of 1RM on week two. Increase load by 2.5% of 1RM on week three.
The best time to use this sort of training is when you've been stuck or when you're at the beginning of a training cycle and well-rested. Otherwise, the extra training stress this method adds can lead to excess fatigue and reduce training quality later on in your training cycle. Use heavy accentuated eccentric loading for 3 weeks at a time, and skip it if you're a newbie.
- Brandenburg JP et al. The effects of accentuated eccentric loading on strength, muscle hypertrophy, and neural adaptations in trained individuals. J Strength Cond Res. 2002 Feb;16(1):25-32. PubMed.
- Walker S et al. Greater strength gains after training with accentuated eccentric than traditional isoinertial loads in already strength-trained men. Front Physiol. 2016 Apr 27;7:149. PubMed.
- De Luca CJ et al. Control scheme governing concurrently active human motor units during voluntary contractions. J Physiol. 1982 Aug;329:129-42. PubMed.