Lead Photo credit: Damir Spanic
Walk into any globo gym and take a gander at the folks who are training. You'll notice that virtually 99% of lifters focus primarily on the concentric or lifting portion of each rep.
They pay little mind to emphasizing the eccentric or negative portion of a movement, and you can go a couple of months or years before seeing anyone incorporate isometric work into a set.
Bros focus so hard on the concentric portion of the rep because that's where they can actually feel the muscle doing some work, which means it has to be the portion of the rep that's responsible for growth, right?
Well, as it turns out, it's the eccentric, lowering phase that offers up the greatest potential for muscle growth (1-2). Oops.
The eccentric rep is your moneymaker in terms of creating increased muscle damage, which is one of the main factors responsible for stimulating growth. It also calls on a higher percentage of the fast twitch fibers to be used early on in the set, rather than later when the concentric portion of the repetition is emphasized (3).
That's why I came up with the 10-6-10 method. It not only emphasizes the eccentric, but also the isometric, along with some other often ignored principles.
With the 10-6-10 method, you're going to perform a 10-second isometric rep – squeeze and hold the weight in place. You'll then segue immediately into 6 slow, 3-5 second eccentric reps while concentrating on the muscle you're working. Once you've finished those, you'll conclude with 10 partial reps.
The 10-second isometric can be done at virtually any angle within the movement, but the most effective way is to get the muscle into its shortest position (as opposed to its lengthened position) and hold it there.
The 10-second isometric contraction "primes" the set so you can really get into a solid mind-muscle connection (MMC), but it also helps to dictate appropriate loading for the set. (You're probably not going to be able to start the set with a well-performed 10 second isometric if the weight is too heavy.)
Here's what it looks like:
If you've been frustrated with not making progress and you've been doing those piston-style reps in order to get "X" amount of reps done, then you're your own worst enemy. That style of rep performance is less effective for mass and strength building than reps performed with emphasized eccentrics (meaning slow and controlled) and controlled but explosive concentrics.
Let's also consider the fact that the mind to muscle connection is a massive part of dictating tension distribution during movement execution. In fact, T Nation contributor Bret Contreras looked at activation differences when someone actually "thought" about working a particular muscle as opposed to just "training the movement," which he wrote about in Mind-Muscle Connection: Fact or BS?.
It's noteworthy that the lifters in Bret's study didn't have to alter their form in order to direct neural drive to and away from certain muscles. They simply performed an exercise, thought about making a certain muscle work during said movement, and muscle activation increased.
The "no shit, Sherlock" conclusion is, if you want a muscle to do the brunt of the work during a movement, you need to think about it. Of course, the loading needs to be appropriate to facilitate the mind-muscle connection most effectively. I realized this a long time ago and coined it "the break-over point."
That's when the weight is too heavy, making a good mind-muscle connection and peak contraction impossible, so much so that the lifter just focuses on "moving the weight" by any means possible. According to research, there appears to be a threshold between 60% and 80% of 1RM where the MMC is significantly enhanced (4). Once you go beyond that, all bets are off.
When you add all of this up, you can see that there's more to it than just lifting the weight. There are several potential factors you can incorporate into each rep to make it incredibly productive, thereby increasing size and strength across the board.
- Emphasizing the eccentric portion of each rep, i.e., using controlled lowering (3-5 seconds should suffice).
- Thinking about the muscle you're trying to work.
- Using appropriate loading.
But we're not done. That leaves us with the one type of contraction that's utilized even less than the eccentric – the isometric. This type of contraction can help improve MMC, and if incorporated into a set efficiently, can also help you to determine more appropriate loading as well.
Not every movement is going to lend itself to this particular method. Single-joint exercises that offer up an ascending resistance curve so that the muscle is screaming the loudest in the fully shortened state seem obvious. These include seated leg curls, leg extensions, side and bent lateral raises, etc.
These are best suited for 10-6-10:
- Hammer Strength Press: You'll need to use bands with this one to make the isometric portion of the 10-6-10 work better.
- Cable Crossover: Partials can be done from the starting or finished position.
- Dip: Again, use bands.
- Side and Bent-Over Lateral: Use dumbbells or cables.
- Hammer Strength Presses or Machine Presses: Use bands to make the isometric portion of the movement more feasible.
- Lat Pulldown
- Chin-Up: If you're strong enough.
- Dumbbell Row: Chest-supported rows work better because the back needs to be supported during the isometric part of the exercise.
- Leg Extension
- Hack Squat: Use bands. Come up half-way for the isometric. Then do 6 full reps, and then partials done from the bottom.
- Seated Leg Curl
- Lying Leg Curl: Keep full hip extension during the set.
- Romanian Deadlift (RDL): Okay, I'm a maniac. Iso-hold at the stretched position, 6 full reps, and then 10 partials in the bottom quarter of the ROM. Ouch.
- Close-Grip Bench Press: Use bands.
- Triceps Kickback
- Cross-Body Triceps Extension: These can be done in the cable crossover machine.
- Spider Curl
- Behind-the-Back Lat Pulldown Curl: Rather than pulling the bar behind your neck, you curl it there.
This is not a complete list. There's a multitude of movements you can use with 10-6-10. It's just a start. My advice is to use this method with exercises where you can feel the muscle contracting during the isometric hold. Two sets of a particular exercise should be more than enough.
You also need to keep doing your big, basic movements like squats, bench, inclines, overheads, etc. that aren't so well-suited to 10-6-10. But I still recommend using controlled eccentrics on all of those as well. The eccentric portion of the rep is your moneymaker in terms of spurring on the new growth or strength that's been eluding you.
- Roig M et al. The effects of eccentric versus concentric resistance training on muscle strength and mass in healthy adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2008 Dec;43(8):556-568.
- Hortobágyi T et al. Adaptive responses to muscle lengthening and shortening in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1996 Mar;80(3):765-72. PubMed.
- Ureczky D et al. The Effects of Short-term Exercise Training on Peak-Torque Are Time- and Fiber-Type Dependent. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Aug;28(8):2204-13. PubMed.
- Calatayud J et al. Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016 Mar;116(3):527-33. PubMed.