Are you training regularly, but feeling the slack to practice the same movements week in week out? Or rather, you are hitting a plateau and not seeing any progress?
the first solution that comes to your mind could be adding new and fancy exercises to your routines. While it’s certainly natural to want to “spice up” your workouts, it is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
The human muscle contraction involves shortening, lengthening, and tightening of muscles when they are contracting against a load. You can actually change the intensity of your workout by changing the way you perform an exercise.
When you exercise, your muscles go through three different types of contractions: concentric, eccentric, and isometric. All of these contraction variables can be useful for when you are working out, and all can contribute to results with their own individual benefits. In this article, I’ll explain what each contraction consists of, and why they’re important to know.
This is a type of contraction that involves the muscles shortening when moving a load. An example of a concentric contraction is bending the elbows when picking up your groceries from the shopping counter. In this case, the concentric contraction occurs in the biceps. The muscles move closer together and the muscle becomes thicker.
Concentric Contraction Examples
- Bicep curls
- The upward pull when doing a pull up
- The push up phase in a squat
What are the Benefits of Concentric Contraction?
The concentric phase of the exercise stimulates strength, whereas the eccentric phase of the exercise stimulates size. This is great if you want to improve your endurance, increase fatigue tolerance, and increase performance in movements such as running, sprinting, cycling, and swimming.
A study suggests that concentric contraction generates less force than eccentric and isometric contraction, whilst requiring the most energy expenditure from your muscle. It is good to know that for your muscle to get stronger, you need to create microtears so that the body repairs and rebuilds muscles stronger than before. Unfortunately, concentric movements do not damage the muscle as much as eccentric movements do, so keep this in mind!
Eccentric contraction is the opposite of concentric, this involves the muscle lengthening as it contracts. For example, by slowly lowering a heavy box to the ground by extending your arms, your muscles remain actively engaged whilst being elongated to transfer the weight of the object to a different position. This provides the control of a movement during the downward phase to resist the force of gravity and is sometimes called the “negative” portion of a movement.
Eccentric Contraction Examples
- Lowering yourself from a pull-up, also known as negatives
- Extending your arms from a bicep curl
- Lowering your body down during a push-up
What are the Benefits of Eccentric Contraction?
An eccentric contraction creates the largest amount of maximal force generated by the muscle. According to research, the force applied to the muscles is greater than the force that the muscle can generate, while the energy expenditure from your muscle is at the lowest in comparison to other contractions.
This will strengthen your muscle fibers, making it the most effective phase of an exercise to build bigger and stronger muscles as it puts more demands on your muscles and central nervous system compared to other contraction types.
Isometric contraction occurs when a muscle is producing tension but does not shorten or lengthen. The angle of your joints does not change during an exercise, and your body remains in a fixed position. A study by Reed and Owen (2008) suggests that the force generated by a muscle is equal to the external load, hence why the length of the muscle does not change. An example of this contraction is carrying a heavy box in front of you. Your arms remain fixed to keep an object in a steady position.
We have a dedicated article and video that explains this training concept in further detail, along with the benefits and exercise examples for each muscle group. You can find it in this isometrics tutorial.
Isometric Contraction Examples
- Plank hold
- Wall sit
- Dead hang
- Handstand holds
What are the Benefits of Isometric Contraction?
Isometric contraction is great for developing balance and body control. It can also assist you in breaking through a strength plateau by holding an isometric contraction at the end of your range of motion. Many people struggle to push up during the concentric phase. By practicing isometric holds at the bottom phase of the push-up can seriously develop the strength you need to push back up. This also applies to other movements such as pull ups, dips, and squats.
Another great use for isometrics is for injury recovery during rehabilitation. Physiotherapists often utilize isometric contraction to help their clients recover. Some benefits include:
- Clients can safely engage their muscles while safeguarding a surgical incision or receptive area
- No special equipment is needed
- Increases activation to specific muscle groups
Concentric vs Eccentric vs Isometric
Comparing all three types of muscle contraction, we know that eccentrics produce greater maximal force than isometrics, and isometrics produces greater maximal force than concentric. The ranking goes in this order: eccentric > isometric > concentric.
If your goal is to build bigger muscles and increase strength, you should focus on the eccentric and concentric, but know that eccentric is more effective than concentric. Whereas, if your goal is to beat strength plateaus, you should focus on isometrics.
The best approach is to combine all three types of contractions in your routines and mix them up to create a well-diversified and effective workout. Pat Chadwick recommends you perform concentric on the faster side (1-2 seconds) and eccentric on the slower side (3-4 seconds). Now and then, add isometric holds (1-2 seconds) at the lowest range of motion for each exercise. You will see more results from your everyday workouts by following these steps!
We have covered how to utilize these types of contractions in the pull up tutorial, push ups tutorial, and dips tutorial. Take your bodyweight game to a whole new level by implementing these into your routines. Alternatively, you can book a coaching session with our coaches to get a personalized workout to achieve your fitness goals.
I’m Pat Chadwick, a qualified Level 2 and Level 3 calisthenics coach and athlete from London, England, with six years of experience. I’ve competed in various UK competitions, including the Kalos Stenos Championships, where I achieved third place in the lightweight category. My passion is highlighting the beauty of calisthenics as an authentic and pure form of body expression. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a champion of their body and mind, and that calisthenics opens the door to personal empowerment.