Before I start talking about using different contraction types in training and the benefits they will have, first I must explain to anyone who doesn’t know about the 3 different types of contraction.
Keeping it nice and basic, there are 3 different ways that your muscle can contract in order to move a part of your body.
Concentric – a concentric contraction is where the muscle shortens in length causing your bodypart to move. For example when you concentrically contract your bicep, it shortens and your arm bends (flexes). Most people who will train will be primarily focused on this type of contraction as it is the one that moves the weight against the resistance. For example it is the concentric contraction that pushes the bar off your chest to lockout on a bench press.
Eccentric – an eccentric contraction is the lengthening of the muscle. This occurs when you lower the weight under control. It’s the opposite movement to the concentric contraction but it isn’t the antagonistic muscle that creates the opposing muscle, it’s the eccentric contraction. For example, when you lower the bar on the bench press you aren’t using your back (even though it’s a rowing movement), you are actually just lengthening your pecs, triceps, delts etc eccentrically. Eccentric contractions are far stronger than concentric. For example if you can bench 100kg, it is likely you could eccentrically lower 120kg under control.
Isometric – Isometric contractions are where the muscle is held at a certain length. Even when you aren’t moving you are still contracting the muscles. If for example you hold the weight on the bench press half way down the rep then you are holding the weight isometrically.
So now that you know the 3 types of contractions you can think about how you use them in your training. You use all 3 types of contractions in nearly every movement. You can, however train different contractions as priority over others. When most people talk about varying their training they will talk about changing rep ranges, numbers of sets, weights, exercises and many other factors of training. However most people will not vary the contraction types. This is a very overlooked part of training that you can vary but it can be very productive to alter and focus on. Using some negative reps, isometric holds and explosive concentric contractions you can boost your gains massively.
So if you are going to try some different contraction types then integrate them into your workout now. Here is an example of how to alter some contraction types into your chest workout.
Bench press – 3 x 5 explosive concentric reps
3 x 5 slow negative eccentric reps
incline dumbbell press – 3 x 10 slow concentric reps
2 x 30 second isometric holds at top of rep
chest press machine – 2 x 20 explosive concentric reps
3 x isometric holds (hold 10 seconds at top, 10 at mid rep, 10 at bottom)
flyes – 3 x 10 reps (hold for 5 seconds at the top and bottom of each rep)
so give this a try and see if you can break through some plateaus and reignite your training. I will warn you though, heavy negative reps will induce severe DOMS so be prepared to ACHE!