Why use Concentric only?
In the world of strength and size the eccentric phase (when the muscle is being stretched during the performance of the lift or “negative”) of the lift and overall ‘time under tension’ are king in regard to stimulating muscle Hypertrophy. From this perspective it would appear that concentric (when the muscle is contracting during the performance of the lift such as when pressing a barbell) ONLY training would have no value to the strength athlete. Although it may appear this way by looking at these simple facts, however training for strength and athletic development is much more complex beast than this one size fits all approach. It is indeed possible to incorporate concentric only training in an effective manner to yield improved strength and or athletic ability.
The advantages of concentric only training comes from the very traits that make it appear as an inferior method. It all comes down to application. Although the concentric phase does not provide the growth stimulus that the eccentric phase does, it also does not have the significant level of breakdown to muscle tissue that is associated with the eccentric phase. For this reason, if the eccentric phase is removed, the frequency of working this muscle or movement can be increased.
This increase in frequency does nothing in and of itself if it is not stimulating the same level of growth. What it does accomplish is the ability to increase frequency and volume and thus blood flow and nutrients to specific areas. This is an effective application for dealing with Rehab, Prehab, Recovery, or Active Mobility work. It also may allow some extra work on specific lagging area’s that would be an overload if the added work was more heavy eccentric based work.
Rehab , Prehab, and Active Mobility
I began playing around with concentric only work following a major surgery. In tearing off two heads of my left pec during a gymnastics accident (gymnastics not recommended @ 250lb bwt).
By removing the eccentric portion of the lift I was able to not only work the damaged area much sooner than my surgeon expected but was able to hit it with great frequency. In addition I was able to hit the opposing areas with active mobility work such as a face pull at a high level of frequency. The face pull is an upper back movement but also involves significant amount of mobilization of the scapular as well as potential to stretch the torn pecs with each repetition. By incorporating these motions as concentric only I was able to significantly increase the volume over what I would have been able to if using standard eccentric based movements. More volume meant more blood flow=more healing and more stretching=more mobility.
These methods proved themselves to be an extremely powerful tool in my rehab from this major injury. In fact I was given 12 month recover time by my surgeon and told I would never reach my pre surgery levels again. I was training at 6 months and competed at 9 months with a performance that ranked me amount the top in the world. My bench press was 22lbs of my personal best and my squat (pec and should mobility demanding) was a huge personal best.
One of my personal favorite’s concentric only movements is the face pull done with a sled. I have many of my athletes perform this multiple times a week. It is not uncommon for strength athletes to have restricted shoulder/scapular issues due to years of heavy lifting and lack of stretching. In addition the active stretching of all the opposing muscles will improve their pressing sessions.
For those not familiar with the sled face pull a quick explanation is that it is an exercise often performed as follows:
- Attach two rope ends to the end of a sled (approx. 15-30” long)
- Grasp a rope with each hand and walk backwards until your arms are fully extended and ropes are taught.
- Begin pulling the ropes up and beside your face while keeping your forearms close to perpendicular with the floor at the completion of the movement. You should be in something that looks like a double bicep pose with your hands at the same height as your face (thus a face pull).
- It is important to complete the lift by attempting to contract the rear delts and pull the scapula as tight together as you can.
- Now walk backwards to until your arms are extended in front of you again and the rope is taught before beginning again.
I like to start the movement a little slow (versus a rapid jerky start) so that I don’t get a lot of momentum going with the sled to carry me through the rest of the contraction.
With experimentation I have arrived at a target of 100 reps over 4-5 sets for this moment and typically have it performed 2-4 times/weeks depending on training load.
I actually prefer performing for distance such as 75-150ft
Improving Workout Recovery
Improved recovery comes about from some of the same reasons that makes rehab & and prehab work with concentric only work. Stimulating blood flow to the areas and the active stretching helps improve the recovery time from one heavy session to the next. In fact these methods are utilized quite heavily in the powerlifting community as it is.
Westside Barbell is known as an innovative leader in the strength training world and one of the things they have popularized is General Physical Preparedness and extra training sessions. These movements and extra sessions are based around Sled drags, Prowler pushing, Reverse Hypers, etc. Isn’t it interesting that the common link between all these exercises is that they are Concentric Only? If you haven’t tried going out and dragging the sled or pushing the prowler a day or two after a heavy squat session when you’re still sore, you should. You can push yourself hard and get the muscle starting to fatigue, and yet after the workout you are in better shape than before.
Most of the methods/tools I just listed are for the lower extremities in regards so I would recommend that you investigate what already exists in regards to these tools, frequency, and volume. Both pushing and pulling movements of the upper body are going to be a little harder to find, but they are available. It may take a little bit of ingenuity but understanding the basics of this type of training an athlete or coach should be able to derive the specific application needed.
Extra Sessions – Fat Loss & Hypertrophy
Extra session can be added for a number of reasons but I will address Hypertrophy and Fat Loss.
If a lagging area is already taxed to the max with current strength training you cannot add any sessions. If you reach this point and wish to add some volume you can still do it successfully with some concentric only sessions. Eccentric provides a bigger growth and hypertrophy stimulus but is not an option in this case, where as a concentric only session will still provide this stimulus. You will often find this prevalent with the pulling muscles of the upper body. The back muscle from the Lat’s to the upper back often take a long time to recover from heavy eccentric sessions. With this in mind I would heavily promote the sled face pull as well as other concentric pulling movements as being key training methods.
In regards to Fat Loss it’s simply a matter of being able to train multiple days a week. To do this you can’t down regulate your Central Nervous System requiring deloads or time off. I was able to personally push this to the limits during my rehab process and spent 3 months training 6 and usually 7 days a week with no issues.
Please note I was not doing any heavy eccentric based movements such as squats or bench press during this time.
As rehab came to a close I began bulking and after putting 10lbs of fat back on I decided to do a Hydrostatic (gold standard) weighing. The results were 8.9% BF which would have put me well into the single digit bodyfat as a walking around state for 3 months. I do admit I was playing with some dietary tweaks at the time as you will find in my article on Fasting. My point is that I this was an easy state to maintain at this time simply through the level of activity I was able to maintain with these training methods.
One of the easiest ways to add this type of training is to tag it onto the beginning or end of another session. This is done easily with by:
- Adding Sled Pulls or Prowler Pushes to beginning or end of Upper Body Days
- Face Pulls for Scapular Retraction on Pressing Day (in addition to back day)
- Concentric Only Tri’s and Shoulders on Speed Bench Day (for two sessions a week
As of now I am just using these methods in a maintenance mode as I am not rehabbing or attempting to lean out. This is what a typical week looks like for me.
Upper body pressing followed by 2-3 assistance exercises (all eccentric based)
Scapular retraction (Concentric Only)
Posterior Chain/Squatting followed by 2-3 assistance exercises (all eccentric based)
Thursday (sometimes Tuesday as well based on needs)
See HIIT-GPP below (Concentric Only) Sessions cycled on and off
Deadlift & Back by 2-3 assistance exercises (all eccentric based)
DE Bench (Concentric Based) listing as concentric based on how performed
2 assistance exercises for Delt’s & Tri’s (Concentric Only)
When I’m working on increasing my work Capacity I add extra session done in a High Intensity Interval Training style. These are done as concentric only to increase volume but also allow me displace some work from my strength training days killing two birds with one stone while not increasing overall weekly load. Some samples of incorporating in this fashion are listed below.
Sample Workout 1
Repeat 3-4 times with 30-90 seconds rest between each exercise
Prowler Push x 200ft
Sled Face Pull x 25 reps or 100ft
Reverse Hyper x 20 reps
Sample Workout 2
Repeat 3-4 times with 30-90 seconds rest between each exercise
Sled Face Pull x 25 reps or 100ft
Sled Chest Press/Fly x 25 reps or 100ft
Sled Low Row x 25 reps or 100ft
Other ways to incorporate are simply by doing Prowler pushes and or Sled Pulls at the beginning or end of upper
Although concentric only training is inferior in straight terms of stimulus for growth and hypertrophy it can have an overall positive affect on the athlete if used properly. I highly encourage athletes to experiment with these methods as described above. This article should also identify why people has seen such success with sled and prowler work and hopefully encourage more athletes to experiment with upper body concentric only sessions as well. I would also like to reiterate the importance of my favorite upper body movement the sled face pull.