So on Tuesday I was teaching a small group training and had three ladies show up to class. The workout was an HIIT/core focused workout and had a TON of upper body work. I was demonstrating a push up when one of the ladies said, “you make it look so easy.”
Right there, I was reminded of how far I’ve come in my strength training journey.
I started strength training in during grad school in the winter of 2013 (2 years after I initially lost my weight, all hail the cardio queen). I quite literally had no idea what I was doing. I did a mix of random workouts I found online and NTC workouts, most of which I could not complete.
I made a little progress with body pump classes, CrossFit (until the first and then the second injury), doing the BBG workouts and becoming a personal trainer. None of that even closely measures up to the amount of progress I made in the three months I followed the direction of my friend Brandon.
I can now see definition in my arms that was never there, and I feel strong because I am actually stronger. I can pump out full push-ups, up downs and lift heavier than I ever have. The best part, I can do a chin up and a kipping pull-up, two things I thought I would never be able to do. And I’m SO SO SO close to a real pull up I can taste it.
Well, I’m going to share a little secret of the most important thing I learned about lifting from him. Are you ready? It’s mind blowing.
- SLOW. DOWN. (Increase your TUT – Time Under Tension)
- Emphasize the downward motion (eccentric training)
Ha ha home gym pic!
What is eccentric training?
According to ACSM, “Muscle contractions involve shortening and lengthening while the muscle is still producing force. The phase of contraction that occurs when the muscle shortens is concentric, whereas the phase of contraction that occurs as the muscle lengthens is eccentric.”
I think of it as the downward part of the exercise. You know, the part that you usually let happen as fast as possible (you think of it as a rest?) because you are focusing on the next contraction part of the movement. For example, in a push up you may lower quickly because you are thinking about being able to push back up.
What is Time Under Tension (TUT) ?
Time under tension is the amount of time the muscle is under load throughout the entire movement. Charles Polloquin is famous for developing optimal formulas to help people achieve their goals faster. The longer a muscle is under tension the more load it experience, the more damage and therefore the more repair and growth (sometimes in size, strength, or both.)
What are the benefits?
- Increased Strength & Power
- Increased Size/ Definition —> depending how heavy you lift (more definition if you stay light or with body weight, more size if you go heavier). Ladies I know many of you fear you will get to big but if you want to be more defined, you do need this type of movement! Most of the information about eccentric training focuses on dudes getting bigger. HOWEVER, I promise you that if you stick with body weight or moderate free weights you will get defined, not huge. I PROMISE.
- Increased Connective Tissue Strength
- Increased Flexibility (eccentric training only)
What are the risks?
- Expect to be sore! If you haven’t been feeling very sore after your workouts recently, you can almost guarantee a ton of soreness when you do these! This may be due to an increase in lactate levels compared to concentric exercise.
- May worsen joint pain for those with osteoarthritis.
How To Implement It
First, you will want to have a solid fitness level built. This isn’t something to implement in your first workout or even your first month of working out. So, if you are a beginner, bookmark this and come back to it later.
If you’ve been trucking along doing the same routine for a while and feel like your results have stalled, it might be time to mix up the variables. You are probably used to mixing up the number of reps and the amount of weight in your workouts. Now it is time to slow down and really focus on the downward motion of the movements you are doing.
Normal fitness rules apply – check with your doc, make sure you warm up, have good form and utilize recovery techniques like foam rolling.
Start gradually. Start at less weight (or use bodyweight) and with fewer reps than usual to see how you respond. You may want to use resistance bands or machines at first to control incremental increases.
Typical eccentric training usually calls for a 2 second in the concentric (up) portion of the movement and resisting the eccentric (down or negative) portion of the movement for 4 seconds.
- Coming down from a pull-up or chin-up –> I would jump up and then control my weight down when I wasn’t strong enough to do the up part of the motion.
- Dropping towards the floor in a push-up –> hand release push ups are great for this.
- lowering your arms during a bicep curl, overhead press, lat raise, front raise, or row.
- The downward movement of a squat.
- The extension (lengthening) part of a hamstring curl (on a machine or stability ball.)
So I definitely and 100% knew that changing your TUT and eccentric training was a big deal. However, I still kind of ignored it for several reasons. First, it takes MENTAL focus and control to not blaze through a workout just to get it done. Second, I am an endorphin junky, I like to run, jump and SWEAT. Since my cardiovascular system is training so…. efficiently… it takes A LOT for me to sweat. Giving up my intense workouts to mentally fight through a hard and boring (to me) strength workout seemed like torture. Why trainers need trainers.
Linking up with Running With Spoons for Thinking Out Loud Thursday!