Eccentric exercise focuses on movements, or phases of a movement, that lengthen the muscles. Some examples of eccentric exercise include lowering into a squat or lowering into a press-up.
In contrast, when a person pushes out of a squat or press-up, this shortens the muscles. This is known as concentric movement. Exercises that keep the muscles the same length, such as planking, are isometric movements.
Eccentric movements require less oxygen and energy than other types of movement. This means they burn fewer calories, but it also means they require less effort. They also build more muscle than concentric exercises.
Read on to learn more about eccentric exercise.
Eccentric exercise focuses on movements that
This type of muscle contraction occurs when a person applies a greater force to the muscle than the muscle itself can produce. In squats, this greater force consists of a person’s body weight, gravity, and any additional weights they might be using.
This forces the muscles to lengthen, absorbing energy from an external load. Some people refer to this as “negative work.”
Concentric exercise, or “positive work,” is the opposite of eccentric exercise. This focuses on movements that shorten the muscles, such as when a person pushes themselves up and out of a squat. During this movement, the muscles shorten as the legs straighten out.
Concentric muscle contractions require more oxygen and fuel than eccentric ones, so they burn more calories. Many movements have both an eccentric and concentric phase, where muscles lengthen and then shorten again. Some examples include:
- bicep curls
The benefits of eccentric exercise include:
Eccentric exercises can increase muscle strength more effectively than concentric exercises. This is because when muscles lengthen, fibers in the muscle split more than they do during concentric exercise. As more fibers split, the body works to rebuild them, resulting in bigger muscles.
Additionally, tendon stiffness
Eccentric contractions use less oxygen and energy than concentric contractions of the same muscle.
An older 2016 review highlights that the energy requirements for eccentric exercise are around four times less than for concentric exercise using the same load. This means doctors can use moderate-load eccentric exercise for people with medical conditions that limit energy supply to the muscles.
Other studies report that people perceive eccentric exercise as easier than concentric exercise. Some types, such as eccentric cycling, also create less muscle pain than concentric cycling at the same intensity level.
- pulmonary conditions
- inflammatory muscle diseases
- Parkinson’s disease
Similarly to other types of movement, eccentric exercise can cause muscle soreness or injury. However, while eccentric exercise may feel easier than concentric during a workout, its ability to tear muscle fibers can result in delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
DOMS is not serious in most people and will usually resolve on its own in several days. However, it does indicate that a person needs to rest while the muscles repair. When a person next does the same exercise, there should be less tiredness or soreness than the time before.
Eccentric exercise can also result in injury if a person does not use the correct movements or if an accident happens, such as a loss of balance.
Below are some examples of eccentric exercises a person can try. It is important to talk with a doctor or physical therapist before trying a new exercise routine.
Heel drops over a step
This exercise can strengthen the ankles and is suitable for Achilles tendinopathy. To try it:
- Stand on the edge of a step with the heels protruding off the back.
- Rise onto tiptoes, then lower the heels down slowly and with control.
- Allow the heels to drop below the level of the step to a point where resistance begins in the calf muscles.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat with the knees bent and straight to target the different calf muscles.
A person can repeat this movement with the knees bent or straight to target the different calf muscles. They can do it one leg at a time to make it more challenging.
To try this movement:
- Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly lower the upper body down with control, bending at the knees. Go as low as possible until there is resistance.
- At the bottom of the movement, quickly lift the upper body back up, straightening the legs.
For people with patellar tendinopathy, try modifying it so that more body weight is on the affected knee during the first half of the movement before switching sides to the other knee when raising back up.
To make this movement more challenging, people can try doing it on tiptoes.
To try this exercise:
- Get into a plank position on the floor, with the hands on the ground slightly more than shoulder-width apart and the feet on tiptoes.
- Use the arms to push the body up, keeping the back and legs straight.
- Next, slowly lower the body close to the ground.
- When close to the ground, swiftly push the body back up again.
For those who need an easier place to start, it is also possible to do push-ups against a wall or sloping surface.
This exercise requires weights. If a person does not have any, they may be able to use filled water bottles or food cans. To do it:
- Stand up straight with a weight in each hand and feet shoulder-width apart.
- Fully extend the arms above the head, keeping the shoulders in their natural position.
- Next, slowly lower the weights, bending the arms at the elbows.
- When the weights are at shoulder height, swiftly extend the arms back up overhead.
An older 2016 review suggests that the typical frequency for moderate-load eccentric exercise is around 20–30 minutes three times a week.
However, doctors and physical therapists may recommend different frequencies for people with specific medical conditions or who need to begin exercise more slowly.
Eccentric exercises involve muscle contractions that lengthen a muscle, whereas concentric exercises involve movements that shorten the muscle.
Including eccentric exercise in a workout can increase strength in muscles and tendons with less effort than concentric exercise, making it an easier option for people with limited energy. It is also safe for people with several conditions, such as tendinopathy and arthritis.
Examples of eccentric exercise include modified push-ups, squats, and heel drops, in which a person moves slowly while lowering the body and more quickly when raising it.