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How to use eccentric training with clients

This is an excerpt from Essentials of Eccentric Training With Online Video by Len Kravitz & Aaron Bubbico.

Implementing the Repeated Bout Effect With a Client

An exercise professional can use the RBE with a client in order to begin a more challenging eccentric training program. All of the research with the RBE strategy has used the eccentric emphasis training method. We therefore support this eccentric method for introducing the RBE. To incorporate the RBE strategy, use the following guidelines. Start by having the client perform the RBE exercises one week before completing a challenging eccentric training workout (with any of the three eccentric training methods). Begin by having the client complete one or two sets of traditional concentric/eccentric (CON - - ECC) resistance training for his or her normal workout. The last set for each exercise will be the RBE. If a client does single-set training, then the RBE will be the first and last set.

As a reminder, the eccentric emphasis method involves using a one-second concentric contraction with a three- to four-second eccentric contraction. For the eccentric emphasis RBE set, choose a resistance intensity that is 50% to 60% of what the client normally lifts with that particular load. Explain to the client that he or she will perform the normal lifting phase of the movement, pause, and then lower the weight to the starting point very slowly - for three to four seconds. Encourage the client to focus on the muscles contracting while lowering the weight. The introduction of the RBE offers an excellent platform for explaining eccentric training methodology to a client.

Now let's consider a case study. Imagine that you are a personal trainer introducing the RBE to a client who currently performs three sets of each exercise at 10-repetition-maximum (10RM) intensity. In other words, the client can do 10 repetitions but reaches momentary muscular fatigue on the 11th repetition. The client does the following six exercises in her or his workout: bent-over row, incline bench press, lateral dumbbell raise, deadlift, front squat, and standing triceps extension.

Have the client perform the first two sets of each exercise with the usual 10RM intensity using the traditional CON - - ECC lifting method. For the third set of each exercise, however, have the client lift 50% to 60% of the normal resistance and introduce the eccentric emphasis method on the lowering phase of the movement. Let's assume that the client normally performs three sets (with a 10RM intensity) on the incline bench press with 100 pounds (45 kg). To introduce the RBE on the third set, set the weight at 60% of 100 pounds, which is 60 pounds (27 kg).

The client should complete the upward phase of the incline bench press in one second; this is the concentric contraction, because the triceps and pectoral muscles are in a shortening phase of contraction. Then have the client lower the weight for three to four seconds; this is the eccentric contraction or muscle-lengthening phase of the movement. The client should complete each repetition in this manner: a one-second shortening action followed by a three- to four-second lowering (i.e., the eccentric emphasis, or EE) action. Have the client continue until all 10 repetitions have been completed.

You must now wait about one week before having the client do any eccentric training method at full intensity. This one-week period allows the muscles to make the molecular and neural adaptations that bring about the RBE. The client may experience mild muscle soreness after completing the eccentric workout at 60% of normal load. Explain to the client that this soreness is a normal response to the new stimulus experienced by his or her muscles. Then, one week later, have the client do the same workout using 100% of his or her 10RM for the EE workout (i.e., the one-second concentric phase and the three- to four-second eccentric phase).

In this example, the client has been training with three sets of six exercises. For progression, since eccentric loading is more challenging to the muscles, it may be appropriate to have the client do only one or two sets for each of the six exercises the first time that he or she uses eccentric training technique at 100% of 10RM. Because the client's body has had a week to adapt from the RBE, it is now prepared for the more demanding eccentric training load; as a result, the client should have much less muscle soreness than would otherwise be the case. From this point on, you can progress and regularly incorporate eccentric training into the client's workouts - using the three eccentric methods presented in this book - without having to repeat the RBE. However, if the client is inactive for a period of time (e.g., due to illness, time off, or vacation), it would be prudent for you to reintroduce eccentric training by means of the RBE.

Educating Clients About the Repeated Bout Effect

Personal trainers will surely receive questions from their clients about eccentric training. Since the use of the RBE is often the first time that a client learns about eccentric training, this is an appropriate place in the book to offer some educational tips to share with clients.

Eccentric training focuses on the lowering phase of an exercise, during which the muscle is elongating but is still very challenged by the resistance. All sports and everyday activities demand both lengthening and shortening actions by the muscles (Vogt & Hoppeler, 2014). These actions are referred to respectively as the eccentric (lengthening) and concentric (shortening) phases of movement, and a person needs to strengthen his or her muscles in both phases in order to participate effectively in sports as well as in activities of daily living.

In sports, the eccentric phase is often the braking action of an athletic skill - for example, when descending after a jump in volleyball or basketball. Therefore, this type of braking action by the muscles can be strengthened by eccentric training. The research shows that incorporating eccentric training in the program design for clients will lead to increased joint strength, stability, and mobility (LaStayo et al., 2014). This potential outcome may be most effective for injury prevention in many sports and athletic activities.

Traditionally, most resistance training programs have focused on the shortening (concentric) phase of the movement. More recently, however, the lengthening (eccentric) phase has attracted much attention because of its potential benefits for muscular strength, muscular hypertrophy, rehabilitation after musculoskeletal injury (LaStayo et al., 2014), and sport performance. In workout facilities, eccentric exercise is now often referred to as doing eccentrics or negatives.

A few caveats are also in order. First, even though the RBE can markedly reduce muscle soreness, you may wish to advise clients that they could still experience mild soreness 24 to 48 hours after performing eccentric training exercise. In addition, if a client has osteoarthritis or another joint-related disease, eccentric exercise may not be recommended due to the extra stress it puts on the musculoskeletal system. Often, personal trainers are also asked whether eccentric training is appropriate for older clients. The general answer is absolutely yes. According to LaStayo and colleagues (2014), eccentric muscle contractions can benefit older adults requiring rehabilitation not only to improve their mobility but also to avoid falls, which can improve confidence when moving about during daily activities. Older adults living with diseases that result in bodily weakness, fatigue, and atrophy can progressively load muscles eccentrically without inducing classic DOMS responses. However, some older clients may have a low level of muscular strength or endurance or may experience joint pain (due to a preexisting condition) in daily life. For these clients, personal trainers may wish to introduce eccentric training with very light loads and progress very gradually.

Understanding Muscle Recovery

Exercise professionals should discuss the concept of recovery with any client who is starting eccentric training. Recovery from exercise training is an integral component of the overall training program; indeed, it is essential for optimal improvement and performance. If a client's rate of recovery improves, he or she can use higher training volumes and intensities without the detrimental effects of overtraining (Bishop, Jones, & Woods, 2008).

Understanding the physiological realities of recovery is essential for designing optimal training programs, particularly those using eccentric training. In essence, recovery includes the following processes: (1) normalization of physiological functions (e.g., blood pressure, cardiac cycle), (2) return to homeostasis (i.e., a resting cell environment), (3) restoration of energy stores (blood glucose and muscle glycogen), and (4) replenishment of cellular energy enzymes (e.g., phosphofructokinase, a key enzyme in carbohydrate metabolism) (Jeffreys, 2005). Muscle recovery occurs during and (primarily) after exercise and is characterized by continued removal of metabolic end products (e.g., lactate and hydrogen ions). During exercise, recovery is needed in order to reestablish intramuscular blood flow for oxygen delivery, which promotes replenishment of phosphocreatine stores (used to resynthesize ATP), restoration of intramuscular pH (acid - base balance), and regain of muscle membrane potential (balance between sodium and potassium exchanges inside and outside of a cell) (Weiss, 1991).

For clients to achieve optimal exercise performance, the exercise professional needs to be proactive in planning recovery as part of the training program. Although no consensus exists about a central recovery strategy, monitoring and observing a client's exercise performance is always helpful in adjusting and planning for this essential ingredient of training. The recovery process varies by the individual due to multiple factors - for example, training status (trained or untrained); level of fatigue; and the person's ability to deal with physical, emotional, and psychological stressors (Jeffreys, 2005). In addition, educating clients about the importance of recovery (e.g., the quantity and quality of sleep) may empower them to complete suitable recovery interventions that will enhance their training outcomes.

Learn more about Essentials of Eccentric Training.

More Excerpts From Essentials of Eccentric Training With Online Video