Eccentric Exercise: An Integral Muscle Contraction Type Used in Physical Therapy

By Dr. John R. Mishock, PT, DPT, DC

Physical therapists are doctorate level trained health care providers who are experts in exercise, function movement, and performance. In practice, physical therapists use three main muscle contraction types (concentric, eccentric, and isometric)

to improve a patient’s quality of movement. In the last article I reviewed isometric muscle contraction. Today, I will focus on eccentric muscle contraction and how it can accelerate strength gains and improve healing when used in an exercise routine. (This information and more can be found in my book, “Fundamental Training Principles: Essential Knowledge for Building the Elite Athlete.”)

Eccentric muscle contraction is a type of functional movement in which the joint angle increases as the muscle elongates while under load. For example in a squat, you lower your body slowly for a count of 5 seconds to approximately 120 degrees of knee bend. This type of muscle contraction generates 10-40 percent more force than concentric muscle contractions (muscle shortening exercise) with less work. (Sports Med, 2016) Eccentric muscle training has been shown to improve strength and power by up to 3.5 times as compared to Concentric training alone. (Annals of Physical and Rehab Med, 2010) In one study, eccentric training alone increased vertical jump height by 8 to 11%. (Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 2010)

In performing eccentric training, slowly lengthen the muscle for a count of 5 seconds followed by a rapid concentric contraction back to the initial position. For example, in a push-up exercise, the body is slowly lowered down for a count of five seconds. When you reach the bottom of the movement rapidly contract pushing up to the starting position. The volume of exercise is performed for 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps. Most exercises or movements can be performed in this manner. This is a great way to “shock” the body and make change to your standard workout without altering the exercise movement. Keep in mind that this type of exercise will create some delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) 24-48 hours following the exercise routine.

Bottom line, eccentric exercise is an essential contraction type for the rehabilitation of muscle tendon overuse injuries, strength and power gains, and sports performance.

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Dr. Mishock is one of only a few clinicians with doctorate level degrees in both physical therapy and chiropractic in the state of Pennsylvania. He has authored two books; “The Rubber Arm, Using Science to Increase Pitch Control, Improved Velocity, and Prevent Elbow and Shoulder Injuries” and “Fundamental Training Principles: Essential Knowledge for Building the Elite Athlete.” Found at our clinics or on Amazon.