There are a TON of different ways to vary up the same basic exercises to keep things interesting – And one of those ways is to focus on different muscle contractions, different pieces of the movement.
Ever slow down a part of the movement? Like slowly lowering into a squat?
Ever hold a movement? Like holding at the top of a pull up?
Then you’ve played with emphasizing different muscles contractions!
By focusing on different pieces of a movement, you can strengthen your weak points. You can also simply vary up your routine and keep things interesting without having to include a lot of fancy moves or equipment…All while getting STRONGER.
There are three types of muscle contractions:
- Concentric – the muscle actively shortening
- Eccentric – the muscle actively lengthening
- Isometric – the muscle actively held at the same length
Let’s take the squat to demonstrate the three contractions. Squatting down is the ECCENTRIC portion. Muscles are lengthening to control the decent. Then if you were to hold at the bottom you would be maintaining an ISOMETRIC contraction. Then on the way up, you will go through a CONCENTRIC contraction and the same muscles that lengthened will shorten.
Or take the push up. Push up from the bottom to the top – concentric. Hold at the top – isometric. Lower back down – eccentric. Hold at the bottom – isometric.
You can emphasis each of these contractions to change up the exercises and even make them more challenging without adding weight.
For instance, if you don’t have weight but want to make a single leg deadlift harder, slow down the eccentric or the lower down toward the ground. Heck, you can even slow down each contraction. You could do 5 count down, 3 count hold, 5 count up.
You can slow down the tempo of the move and focus on different contractions so that you spend more time under tension to get great results from the same basic moves!
Plus with isolating or emphasizing different contractions, you can work on strengthening your weak points…Like maybe you struggle to keep your body in a nice straight line as you push UP from the bottom of a push up. A concentric focused push up may be what you need.
Start on the ground and simple focus on only the concentric aka the push up off the ground.
Or maybe your lock out at the top of a pull up is weak. Maybe you can’t get your chin above the bar on that first or even last rep. Then you should try a pull up and hold – an isometric hold at top.
While focusing on the different contractions can strengthen your weak points and even make basic moves more challenging, they can also be a great way to regress a movement.
For instance, if you can’t do a full pull up, you CAN do a jumping pull up with a slow eccentric. You may not have the strength to pull up, but by jumping you can get to the top of the pull up and then lower down as slowly as possible. Working on a SLOW lower down will help you develop the strength you need to do a full pull up. It will help you improve your scapular retraction and work your lats.
Same goes for the push up.
Can’t yet do one from your toes? Build strength by starting at the top of a push up and lowering down to the ground as slowly as you can with good form. At the bottom, release and then reset without working about pushing back up.
Also, there are specific benefits to focusing on the different contractions, specifically eccentric and isometric.
Focusing on isometric holds can be a great way to develop muscle stability. Want to build a strong base? Then use isometric holds. Holding poses can not only develop great muscle stability, but it can also improve your mobility.
What do you think a lot of yoga is?!? ISOMETRIC HOLDS!
Eccentric training also has some flexibility benefits as well as a ton of strength benefits. If you want to get stronger and even build some muscle, then you need to focus on the eccentric portion of lifts.
Here are two great articles about eccentric training and focusing on the “negative” or the eccentric portion of a move:
Do you vary the tempo of your exercises? Do you ever focus on the eccentric, isometric or concentric contraction?
What are your favorite ways to emphasize the different muscle contractions?