Eccentrics for Squatting
Guest Post by Christopher Taber – PhD, CSCS, USAW 2
Christopher Taber is an assistant professor at Sacred Heart University and head coach of the Sacred Heart weightlifting team. His research is focused on strength and power development for athletes as well as athlete monitoring and testing. Christopher coaches and competes for East Coast Gold Weightlifting team and lives with his wife Lucy and his dog Marble in Connecticut. You can find more information at Atlas Human Performance.
It is no secret that squats are important for weightlifters. Squats are a multi-joint exercise that challenge the largest muscle groups in the body and help to develop strength and power. Squatting strength is vitally important for standing up with heavy weights and developing explosive power for the snatch and clean and jerk. Everyone can benefit from heavy squats and this article will discuss methods of using eccentric muscle actions to help improve your squatting ability.
Muscle actions are broken down into several categories but the commonly encountered actions are concentric, isometrics and eccentric. Concentric muscle actions are caused by the muscle shortening and around found when you stand up from the bottom position in the squat. Isometric actions are when there is no change in muscle length but the muscle is still developing tension. Isometrics can be found in the top position of the squat and briefly in the bottom in the transition. Finally, eccentric actions are when the muscle lengthens under tension and are found when you descend in the squat.
From several research projects, data has demonstrated that muscle is stronger in the eccentric portion of a lift action compared to the concentric portion. Typically, training intensity is based on the concentric muscle action which may underload the eccentric portion of the lift thereby not fully developing all strength qualities. There are several methods you can utilize in training to develop stronger eccentric strength and help to build your squat. We will discuss slow eccentrics and accentuated eccentric loading as strategies to improve your eccentric strength and power.
Slow eccentric squats are a great way to increase eccentric strength and control during squatting. During the eccentric portion of the squat you simply extend the amount of time it takes you descend and this can range anywhere from 3-8 seconds. Obviously the longer you take to descend the more challenging the concentric portion of the lift will be. These can be used on all the repetitions or simply used on the first or last repetition to make the lift more difficult for the lifter. To make this more difficult make sure you count for your lifter as they tend to rush through these lifts and 5 seconds turns into 3!
The second way to develop eccentric strength is called accentuated eccentric loading and this advanced strategy involves handling a heavier weight during the eccentric portion of the lift compared to the concentric portion. This technique can be implemented by either removing the weights manually at the bottom of the squat or with the use of weight releasers. Most commonly this is performed using weight releasers attached to the bar which fall off in the bottom of the lift allowing the lifter to descend with heavy weights and stand up with a lighter weight on the concentric portion of the squat. This technique allows for optimal loading of the eccentric portion of the lift with weights that challenging while allowing for the concentric prescription to be appropriate once the weight releasers are removed. This loading allows for better development of eccentric strength while still training the stretch shortening cycle and maintaining the normal mechanics of the squat. Below is a video with the weight releasers in action.
Casey Rohrbaugh, one of Leo’s national lifters for East Coast Gold Weightlifting Team, uses the weight releasers in training to build strength for her cleans.
Overloading the eccentric portion of the lift is a great way to get stronger and improve an athletes squatting ability but it’s important to implement them at the correct times in training. Heavy eccentrics can cause substantial muscle damage and soreness in the days following a training session. Typically this damage and soreness peaks 36 to 48 hours after training and can persist for a few days after training. Heavy eccentrics are best implemented farther out from competition when maximal strength or hypertrophy is being developed because of the muscle damage and increased fatigue on the lifter. Finally, heavy accentuated eccentric loading is an advanced training strategy which should be implemented will well prepared and strong athletes. It is not recommended to utilize this strategy for lifters whose back squat falls below two times bodyweight because of the training stress and injury risk. Slow lowering eccentrics are appropriate for most lifters and can be implemented in a wide variety of ways into training and are great for developing squatting strength and power.
For more information on eccentrics or how to incorporate them into your training plan reach out to Totten Training Systems and learn from the best!