Concentric vs. Eccentric Contractions

By Sarah Katsaras MPT, OCS

Concentric vs. Eccentric Contractions

When you go to therapy or start working out in the gym, there is a whole new language that you are exposed to which includes different types of muscle contractions. The most common discussion is concentric vs. eccentric contractions and which is the better option. If you are trying to get stronger, it helps to understand how your muscles contract and what builds them up. I will use a bicep curl as an example to explain how your muscles contract with exercise.

What is a Concentric Contraction?

An example of a concentric contraction would be, when you pick up a weight and you start to bend your elbow to perform the curl. Your bicep muscle contracts and shortens as you lift the weight. This is called a concentric contraction because the bicep muscle is shortening during the contraction as you bend your elbow to lift the weight.

Man performing a bicep curl that shortens the bicep muscle which is a concentric Contraction. JOI Rehab

Man performing a Concentric Contraction

What is an Eccentric Contraction?

An example of an eccentric contraction would be , as you start to slowly lower the weight from the curled position. The bicep muscle contracts again to control the lowering of the weight. This is called an eccentric contraction because the bicep muscle is lengthening as you straighten your elbow to lower the weight. Both types of contractions will make you stronger but the effect on the muscle is different.

Woman doing a bicep curl showing an eccentric contraction of the arm. JOI Rehab

Woman doing an Eccentric Contraction

Eccentric vs Concentric: Which Muscle Contraction is Better?

Research has shown that an eccentric contraction requires less energy but gives more force which is why some exercises focus more on using eccentric force to strengthen the muscle. There is also a benefit to using the muscle in a lengthened position because it tends to strengthen the entire muscle and tendon. Some injuries such as tendinitis will recover better with focus on eccentric exercises because it puts less stress on the tendon during the contraction. It has also been shown that eccentric exercise will build muscle bulk a little quicker than concentric exercise for those that are strengthening to build muscle bulk.

Man doing bicep curls showing the difference between eccentric vs concentric contractions. JOI Rehab

Eccentric Contraction vs. Concentric Contraction

How do I add Eccentric Training to my work out?

There are certain exercises that focus on eccentric training such as:

  • Slow Sustained Squats
  • Descending Stairs
  • Lowering from a Calf Raise

A benefit of doing eccentric training in your work out is that many of these exercises are very functional. This means that they help with things you would do at home in your normal routine. The area that may become confusing is that you must know the muscle you are targeting to know how to strengthen it eccentrically. For example, a slow, sustained squat will work your glut max eccentrically as you lower but concentrically as you return to standing. This means that you must focus more on the lowering portion of the squat to target your glut max.

A Physical Therapist Can Help!

These concepts can be confusing but remember that you can always consult a physical therapist or athletic trainer. If you need help deciding between eccentric vs. concentric contractions in your development of an exercise program. This is especially important if you have an injury that could be made worse with improper exercise form.

Written By: Sarah Katsaras MPT, OCS

Related Articles:

The most common injury to occur when exercising is a muscle strain. Learn more about Prevention and Treatments for Muscle Strains here.

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