Athletes are always after what the best exercises that will produce the most athletic gains. Actually, that’s not the questions athletes should be asking. The question they should be asking is when should I be using these exercises and how…. The answer is always it depends. A major aspect of training that I find most athletes miss the boat on is the tempo of their training, more specifically how to use eccentric and isometric focused training. When programmed correctly eccentrics and isometrics can be an absolute game changer but the important part is knowing how to use it and when to use it. Just like any training variable too much of one thing can be a bad thing and just the right amount can be a really good thing. In this article I will map out how, and when to perform them and general guidelines to follow.
If you implement these exercises and guidelines throughout your yearly training cycle around your sport or sports that you play you will be able to continually produces results with your program year after year and avoid a whole lot of overuse injuries. You can’t be a stud from the sidelines, and the ones who approach their training the correct way spend very little time on the sidelines.
So what are some of the benefits of eccentric and isometric training?
1. Reduces mechanical stress (amount of weight you put on your joins)
2. Improves form and technique on lifts
3. Stimulates muscle growth
4. Improves tendon health (especially for chronic injuries like tendonitis)
5. Reveals and corrects dysfunction in movement
6. Improves deceleration capabilities
7. Strengthens join angels and positions
When is this important to implement for an athlete?
For athletes, one would think slowing down movement may be disadvantageous because they play their sport at high velocities. While high velocities training has it’s time and place so does training at slow velocities. That time is usually following an inseason cycle during the post-season and part of the offseason where overuse injuries and asymmetries are prevalent. Continuing with high velocities-based training will just further increase dysfunction and even decreasing speed, power and increasing likelihood of injury. This is where eccentric and isometric training comes in to correct movement patterns, increasing strength and hypertrophy, and helps to improve tendonitis issues.
How slow should my eccentric phases be?
When implementing eccentric training it should be a 3-6 second count during the eccentric phase to be as affective as possible, you can perform maximum eccentrics as well for 1-2 reps with body weight exercises such as a chin up or a push up. Some great examples of this are as follows.
How long should your isometric phases by?
Isometric holds during your lifts should be between 2-5 second when performing repetitions but can be as long as 20-30 seconds or longer if you’re just holding a position. General rule of thumb, the heavier the weight and the more direct load on the spine the shorter the isometric holds.
Here’s some great example of isometric exercises I use with my athletes
How do I use all this information?
Knowing all this I’m going to break it down into guidelines for each block of your training (inseason, postseason, offseason, and preseason) and how eccentric and isometrics should be used in the gym.
Main focus- correct poor movement and asymmetries brought on by your sport.
- Limited sprint and power work
- Every main lift exercise for your workout should have an eccentric or isometric element to it and a lower level of progression. For example- ( kettle bell deadlift with a 4 second pause above the floor, a zercher squat to a box with a 5 second eccentric, or a chain loaded push up with a 6 second eccentric)
- 1-2 accessory exercises should have eccentric and isometric focus as well with relatively high volume (rep range- 8-12 reps)
Main focus- continue to correct poor movement and asymmetries, become more generally prepared, increase strength, and build a foundation for speed and power to be developed. Every good preseason is built from the offseason.
- Increase in sprint and power work systematically over the time period of your offseason. Base this on how much time you have. You will increase this quicker over 3 months than 6 months.
- For at least half the offseason there will still be an eccentric or isometric element in your main lifts but they will become more advanced and duration will be shorter. An example of this would be as follows- (trap bar deadlift with a 3 second eccentric, front squat with a 2 second pause in the bottom, or bench press with a 2 second pause above the chest)
- After about half way through the offseason you can remove the eccentric and isometric focuses on your main lifts and allow yourself to go a little heavier on your lifts.
- 1-2 accessory exercises will have eccentric and isometric elements in them.
Main focus- development of speed, power, and special strength exercises that are more closely related to your sport.
- At least one day a week for lower body and upper body is dedicated to dynamic work
- Main lift exercises should predominantly be unilateral. The use of bands and chains are recommended for accommodating resistance.
- Eccentric and isometric work should predominantly be done in accessory work only
Main focus- maintaining all the physical qualities you developed in the post, off and preseason training cycles. Overall training volumes are much lower and overall duration of workout should be shorter.
- Main lift should incorporate a controlled eccentric about 3-4 seconds long only 3-4 sets
- Accessory work should be light and unilateral focuses with isometric focused for 2-5 seconds. Only performing 1-2 sets of each
- Speed and power work should be down with your sport.