When we think of training without gym equipment or heavy weights it’s hard to imagine that we could actually look to improve strength or induce hypertrophy. Thankfully, there is a way to do all of this and more, with minimal to no equipment necessary.
When we consider a generic resistance based training program it will generally include all aspects of a muscular contraction including concentric, eccentric and isometric.
What does this mean?
The concentric action of a muscular contraction occurs when the muscle shortens as the associated joint moves into flexion. An example of this is during a bicep curl when the elbow bends (moves into flexion) and the bicep shortens and contracts.
The external force being applied is less than the force being generated by the bicep (and associated muscles).
An isometric muscular contraction occurs when the muscle length is sustained over time, as the associated joints stay fixed at a certain angle. Consider the top of a bicep curl where the elbow is bent and there is no movement occurring. An isometric contraction can occur at any joint position where this is no joint movement occurring.
The external force being applied is equal to the force being generated by the bicep (and associated muscles).
Finally, the eccentric contraction. An eccentric contraction occurs when the muscle-tendon complex lengthens while small muscle properties are still required to contract in order to generate force, control and tension. This type of contraction is often called ‘tension under time’ or ‘negatives’. Consider the bicep curl again, as the elbow moves back into an extended position as the arm straightens down by your side.
The external force being applied is greater than the force being generated by the bicep (and associated muscles).
SO WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF WE FOCUSSED PRIMARILY ON THE ECCENTRIC PORTION OF A MUSCULAR CONTRACTION?
This is where things get really interesting! There is a vast amount of research showing the many benefits of eccentric training including exercise-induced muscle hypertrophy, injury prevention and management of tendon and soft tissue injury.
IMPROVED STRENGTH AND MUSCLE SIZE:
Research supports the suggestion that eccentric training is superior to concentric when looking at developing muscle strength and size. Eccentric movements have the ability to generate greater force production while requiring less oxygen and neural activity. This makes it a very effective type of movement to complete in comparison.
Eccentric training has the potential to help individuals not only maintain muscle strength and size while gym equipment or weights are limited, but also improve musculoskeletal health. This is particularly helpful for individuals with lower muscle mass, those with sarcopenia and those trying to maintain their exercise routine from home.
When introducing eccentric training into your program, be careful not to overload the system, as it has the ability to significantly increase DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). That’s because in eccentric actions, the weight is greater than the amount of force produced by the muscle, so it creates more microscopic damage to the muscle. This leads to greater soreness but also stimulates recovery and growth.
LOWERED RISK OF INJURY:
Eccentric movements have been noted in research as a great injury management tool not only for prevention, but also in terms of rehabilitation. When looking at tendon rehabilitation and ‘pre-season’ training, eccentric exercises should be included specifically and with special consideration. Again, eccentric movements need to be included slowly into a program to allow the body to respond this stimulus and increased muscle damage. Eccentric exercises should be discussed and managed by the Strength and Conditioning coach, or treating rehabilitation professional. It is possible to overdo eccentric work, despite the endless benefits it provides!
HOW TO APPLY ECCENTRIC TRAINING TO YOUR PROGRAM:
Using your muscles eccentrically simply means slowing down the eccentric phase of the movement. For example, moving into a squat position over a prolonged period of time (often 3-10 seconds), slowly lowering your body from the top pull-up position, slowly moving the bar to ground during a deadlift.
Slowing down the eccentric phase of the movement often make exercises much more challenging. This is why eccentric exercises are great inclusions into a home based program when weights are limited.
No weights for a bench press? Complete a 10 second push up, lowering yourself to the ground.
No weights for a squat? Complete a 10 second lower into a full depth squat.
Only have 5kg for a bent over row? Complete the lowering phase over 5-10 seconds and see how challenging this can be.
Training from home without equipment comes with its fair share of challenges but it’s certainly not impossible. By utilising eccentric movements you are not only maintaining muscle strength, there is an opportunity to develop strength and size, while bullet-proofing yourself from injury.
Remember, eccentric training needs to be well thought out due to the acute muscle damage that occurs. Speak with your exercise professional on how you can make best use of this style of training.
With this information in mind, there has never been a better time to start training from home! At Bloom Allied Health we are successfully implementing home programs with clients who don’t have access to any gym equipment. We are focussing on eccentric work, movement complexity, intensity and load. There are so many acute training variables to consider and change over time, ensuring continued progression and growth, without the need for a gym!