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Eccentric Exercise Demos Part 1

Join Jonathan Bailor for Smarter Exercise demos Plus an Inspiring How-To Overview

Jonathan: As we covered in the last segment, just like eating is really about quality rather than quantity, we see that with exercise, again, it’s all about quality rather than quantity. I want to make one thing really, really clear. Hunter, you asked a really good question at the end of the last segment, which is, What if I have other activities I do and I’m training for, how does this exercise play into that? And one of our wonderful viewers asked a question online, which was, I like doing Zumba. Are you saying I can’t do Zumba anymore? I want to be very, very clear that what we’re covering here from an exercise perspective and what I’m going to show you and we’re going to do together right now is not the exercise routine you have to do; it’s an exercise routine that applies the principles we’ve learned today.

Just like with eating, what I want everyone to be able to do is to understand the principles, understand the science, understand the “why,” and do smarter marathon training, if that’s what you want to do; smarter rock climbing, if that’s what you want to do; smarter Zumba, if that’s what you want to do. We all have different goals and different objectives and all we’re trying to do throughout these two days is provide you with cutting-edge science that will enable you to achieve those goals and your objectives as easily and safely as possible. So everything we talk about here, remember, these are just examples and then see how you can apply them in your own life. But if you want to do exactly this routine, you absolutely can and it will help you quite a bit.

As I mentioned, to get started, we have two options. We have at-home exercises as well as exercises we can do at the gym. I want to start with eccentric to begin with and then we’ll go into smarter interval training. We can’t do all the gym exercises here because, frankly, we’re not in a gym. But you’ll understand the basic principles and premises and then be able to do whatever you want in the gym.

Remember, when we talk about eccentric exercise, we’re just talking about adding more resistance when you’re lowering rather than when you’re lifting, so focusing on that portion of the movement. But that is easier said than done often because, let’s say, for example, let’s take an exercise like a bench press. For folks who are familiar with exercising, we’ll have some stuff in this segment for you. We’ll also go very basic for folks that aren’t familiar with exercising. So try to do it for both audiences here.

A squat – a basic squat movement – we’ve all squatted. If you’ve ever used the restroom or sat down, you know what a squat is. It’s just this movement right here. When we talk about moving eccentrically, you might wonder, Well, Jonathan, how can I use more weight on the way down such that — okay, well, now I’m down but if it’s more weight, I won’t be able to lift myself back up, right? So how does this eccentric movement work? How can I use more resistance on the way down? How can I maximize force on the way down?

There’s two general approaches to — actually, there’s three general approaches to increasing the force required during an exercise. The first, and one of the most common, is speed so you can perform an exercise faster. Sprinting is just jogging with more force. When you jog, your legs hit the ground with a certain level of force. When you sprint, that’s just jogging with much more force. The only challenge with using speed to make your muscles generate more force is it carries with it increased risk. The faster you move, the more likely you are to get hurt. Obviously, sprinting up stadium steps is a much different scenario, for example, than doing a leg press with just more weight on it.

Adding more weight to an exercise is also a way to increase force. It’s often much safer than doing an exercise faster and it is the preferred method for increasing force when exercising smarter. To be very clear, if there are people that already do sprints, sprints are a fabulous form of exercise but not all of us can sprint and if someday you get injured and you can no longer sprint, we’re going to show you ways to increase force, not through speed but through resistance.

The third way to increase force is actually similar to the first — it’s speed but it’s actually going slower. What I mean by that, for example, is, if you were doing a squat movement and you wanted to increase the challenge of the eccentric portion, what you could do is just lower the weight — in this case, the weight is just my body — very, very slowly. Like, you’ll notice that — I mean, you could try this at home right now. Sit down quickly. Okay, that’s not too bad. Try to sit down very slowly. You’ll notice it’s much, much more challenging.

Before we get into a little bit more advanced techniques on how to train eccentrically or how to just overload your muscles on the negative or extension portion of a movement, just understand that if there’s any exercise you’re already doing, from a resistance training perspective, you can make it more eccentric simply by more slowly lowering the weight. That’s a takeaway for anyone. You can make your existing resistance training routine smarter by slowly lowering the weight. What you might find is, you’re going to get a lot more tired a lot quicker because the way most people exercise is they just ignore the eccentric portion. Now I want you to focus on it. Again, you’ll notice this isn’t a “Stop doing what you’re doing”; it’s just “Do it slightly differently, do it smarter.”

Let’s say, you don’t have an exercise routine and you need a new exercise routine and let’s say you want to do eccentric training at home and let’s say you don’t have a lot of fancy equipment. How do you do that? Well, let me show you how you do that. I need a chair. Could I get a chair? Could someone throw me a chair? I’m going to show you how to do an eccentric squat at home. I’ll actually bring up some of the lovely audience members to help demo this as well. I’m going to put a chair behind me just for safety but, depending on your experience level, we’re talking about a squat. We’re talking about a basic squat movement.

A basic squat movement — and I’m not going to get into all of the kinesiology of positioning because we just don’t have enough time but, as a general rule, you want to make sure your feet are about a little bit further than shoulder width apart, you want to make sure your toes aren’t really flared out or really pointed in but at approximately neutral, and you want to do everything in your power to squat down and back. People naturally do this — I don’t mean to be crude but — when they sit on the toilet. You’ll notice that when you sit on the toilet, you naturally lead with your butt and you go down and back. That’s what I want you to do when you squat down. I don’t want you to do this. Do you see how my knees are breaking the plane of my toe? They’re going out further than my toe. Make sure you do not do that.

Try to squat down and back and the most effective way to do that is to make sure you got your shoulders back, chest out, head up, butt back, and then you squat slowly down, pushing through your heels so that your knees are approximately even with your toe. In a traditional squat, you’ll notice that — let’s just use 200 pounds. I weigh 190 but let’s use 200 pounds, and obviously I’m not lifting my legs here. Hypothetically, let’s say that I’m squatting down with 200 pounds and now I’m coming back up with 200 pounds. I’m using the same amount of force concentrically and eccentrically.

We’ve already talked about one very basic way I can make that movement more effective and smarter is to go more slowly on the way down. You can imagine trying to slowly squat down for, let’s say, 10 seconds and even trying to hold the bottom position — the bottom position of a squat for most people is going to be right around parallel, so where your legs are parallel with the ground. As you’re just getting started, your Achilles is probably not going to be flexible enough to do that so you may end up right here but your goal should be to eventually be able to develop the flexibility to squat to about parallel, if not lower. So you’re going to squat down nice and slowly, approximately for 10 seconds. Then once you get to the bottom, come back up at a natural pace. That right there is going to cause you to have a more effective squatting movement than you naturally would with wall squats.

Now, let’s say you want to dial it up even more. So you want to add more resistance. Before we get into this, there’s one way you can do that immediately. Let’s actually do it over here. As you start adding, you should generally always practice things in the safest way possible so a way to increase the safety of any sort of squat movement is to make sure you have something in front of you that you can grab onto, should you happen to lose balance, and something behind you so that if you do lose your balance, you can just sit down. Easy enough.

When you want to increase resistance on the way down — we already talked about you’re going to go slower on the way down than you are on the way up. Also, you’ll notice that when you squat, the lower you get, the more challenging it is. So if you want to challenge yourself even more, you can imagine squatting down nice and slow and then at that bottom, at that most challenging moment, just try to hold that. Just right there — hold that movement. This is called an isometric contraction and it’s a great way to increase the intensity of your exercise without increasing any risk.

One thing that’s great about everything we’re talking about here is you’ll notice this is all very slow, this is all very controlled, this is all very methodical. It’s very difficult, if you do this correctly, to injure yourself because safety is priority number one. There’s no better way to make your exercise routine completely ineffective than to hurt yourself so that you can’t do anything. So please, always put safety as priority number one and it’s a good rule in general.

If you hear about a new exercise strategy or a new exercise technique, just ask yourself, What’s the likelihood that I’m going to get hurt? Because especially as we get older, and I can tell you this from experience, when you get injured, often times, you never get completely better. If you blow your knee out like me — I’ve blown my knee out three times — it ain’t getting better. My knee is broken. So we really want to ensure that we don’t break ourselves during our effort to heal ourselves. We don’t want to experience that ironic moment.

So we squat down, we come back up, we can hold our balance by holding on to something in front of us and we’ve got a chair behind us to ensure we’re staying safe. We can increase resistance by going down slowly, pausing at the bottom, and then popping back up. But as you get stronger, that’s not even going to be enough for you. You’re going to need even more resistance. So how do you add resistance on the way down but not on the way up? Because if you do it on both ways, you’re going to get stuck down and won’t be able to come back up.

Here’s how you do this. You have two limbs — you’ve got your two legs. So what you can do is, on the way down, for example, take one leg, maybe step it a little bit forward or just consciously put less weight on one leg. I’m going to focus on working my right leg a bit more eccentrically on this movement; not so much my left leg. The way I’m going to do that is, when I squat down, I’m going to naturally push less through my left leg than I am through my right leg. So you can imagine that instead of 100 pounds sitting on this leg and 100 pounds sitting on this leg, I’m actually going to have, let’s say, 150 pounds sitting on this leg.

I’m holding on to this for balance because I’m slightly off balance because I’m putting more weight on this leg than I am on my left leg and I’m going to do everything we talked about before. Go down slowly, hold the position at the bottom. This leg was able to slowly lower 150 pounds because it is stronger eccentrically than it is concentrically. If I now tried to stand up doing that same thing, I wouldn’t be able to. But that’s okay because I don’t need to. To stand up, I’ll just use both legs equally.

So the general principle to applying more resistance eccentrically with body weight exercise is, in addition to going slower and in addition to pausing at the most difficult moment, is to use your various limbs to change the balance of weight. If you were really advanced — really advanced — you could do a complete one-legged squat. So you could say eccentrically, I’m going to squat down. Of course, you’re going to hold on to something. I’m going to squat down just with one leg, ideally for about 10 seconds, trying to hold it at the bottom. You might not be able to lift yourself up, that’s okay. Use both legs.

When you think about how cool this is, you can now take almost any exercise and with these three principles of first, going slower, holding at the most difficult moment, and then using your limbs to spot you or rearrange resistance, you can make any body weight movement smarter.

Another great and easy example are push-ups. Can I borrow that pad right there? Push-ups are a great example of being stronger eccentrically versus concentrically. It’s also a great example of how training smarter can unlock an entire category of exercises for people that they may not be able to do otherwise. Let’s consider a push-up — great way to activate your shoulders, your triceps, and your chest muscles.

How is a push-up done traditionally? The way a push-up is done traditionally is people lower themselves down so they approximately have their nose touching the ground and they push themselves up. A lot of people are actually not able to do that movement. But actually, they’re able to do half of it. A lot of people are not able to do the concentric portion of a push-up but they could actually do the eccentric portion of a push-up. So they could slowly lower themselves down for approximately 10 seconds; if at all possible, hold the most challenging position; put your knees down and push yourself up. So I’m using my full body weight on the way down, I’m moving very slowly, I’m holding at the bottom position, and then I’m using maybe half my body weight and pushing myself up gradually.

Now, of course, if that’s too challenging, that’s no problem. We can completely adapt it. You could just, say, start in a more basic position — with your knees down so you’re using less resistance, slowly lowering yourself down — my hands are too far up front — slowly lower yourself down. If you can’t push yourself up even in this case, that’s okay. That’s no problem. Just get up any way you can.

If you need to roll yourself up, that’s no problem because now you’re still able to do this movement that you’ve never been able to do before. Why? Because you’re using your muscles in the way that they are strongest. You’re you at your strongest, which is cool. And if you think about it, that is truly the opposite way most of us resistance train. We focus on lifting the weight and if we can’t lift the weight, we stop.

We talked about squats. We talked about push-ups. What about our back muscles, for example? Well, one of the most effective exercises in the world for your back is a pull-up or a chin-up. Probably pretty familiar with these — they’re very common in the military. The good news is, you don’t need a contraption like this, as nice as it is and as scary as it is. What you need is, you can go on Amazon or any sporting goods store and you can buy a door pull-up bar or if you have an I-Beam or something like that.

Now, I know a lot of the people watching are like, “You’re going to tell me to do pull-ups? I can’t. I can’t do pull-ups. That’s not going to — “ That’s okay. I’m not going to ask you to do pull-ups. You’re going to do let-downs. It’s cool because, by doing these let-downs, you’re going to be able to develop the strength that will allow you someday to do a concentric pull-up; whereas previously, you couldn’t even get started, which is exciting.

A traditional pull-up — let me make sure this doesn’t fall down. A traditional pull-up is just done like this — you pull yourself up and what you’ll frequently see is people just drop themselves down. Obviously you don’t want to do that. But if you can’t do a regular pull-up, this movement isn’t off-limits for you. Get a chair behind you, obviously have something sturdy, and then — scoot this chair forward. Just like we did with our squats, you’re going to use your legs to counter-balance some of your weight. What you can do is, just imagine you’re trying to hold this top position and then slowly take some of the weight off your legs and put them into your back so that you are trying — you’re slowly — what you’re conceptually doing is slowly lifting your feet off the chair but if you’re not — don’t just do that because you have to evaluate your strength levels.

Conceptually, you’re transferring weight from your feet to your back and arms and you’re going to do that until, despite your best efforts to hold yourself up here at the top, your muscles start to get tired and you just — you’re coming down. Despite your best efforts to hold yourself up, you’re coming down. You can’t pull yourself up. That’s fine because, just stand up. So now, a movement, again, that is so profoundly beneficial for your biceps, again, your shoulders, your back, your trapezius muscles, which a lot of us could never do before, you can now start to do when you work with your muscles in their strongest motion and you use other muscle groups in your body to essentially spot you.

You’re slowly lowering yourself down. You’re not using your entire body weight — you’re counter-balancing with your legs — and when you get to the bottom, you’re like, There’s no way I could lift myself up. That’s okay. You don’t need to. You could even step off the chair, just get back up, and do another let-down. Then, as you start to build your muscles, you will eventually, believe it or not, get to a point where, soon, you can slowly lower yourself down so your muscles will be strong enough eccentrically to handle your full body weight and then eventually your full body weight on the way up.

Squats are a great option for at-home leg exercises; pull-ups, or more appropriately, let-downs are a great way to work your back at home; push-ups for your chest; and then for your shoulders — and I know Dr. Cathy’s going to help us with a few different versions of this — shoulder press is a great general movement.

Just like anything else, if you’re familiar with the shoulder press, it’s basically like a push-up but it’s just above your head so it’s just a movement like this. The reason I’m not spending too much time on form is not at all because it’s not important but because you can go on YouTube and watch a million videos on how to do a proper push-up, how to do a proper squat, how to do a proper pull-up, how to do a proper shoulder press, or you could get a free personal training session at any local gym. They all offer one free personal training session. These exercises aren’t new; it’s how we’re doing them that’s new so make sure to perfect the form and learn the form from an expert — some qualified expert — but then just do it eccentrically.

A shoulder press traditionally would be done — in this case, I have 5 pounds in either hand — we’re going 5 pounds up, each arm; 5 pounds down, each arm. How could we increase the resistance eccentrically? We already talked about two ways. We could take it up lower and slower than we took it up. We could also do things like spotting ourselves with our arms. Let’s say, I wasn’t able to lift 5 pounds with one arm. It’s conceivable that I could lift 5 pounds with both arms and then I could spot myself on the way down where this arm, again, it couldn’t lift 5 pounds but it conceivably can lower 5 pounds — again, always using one limb to balance the other limb out.

Now, before we get some of the awesome students on stage to help demo these, let me explain why this is so exciting from a muscle activation perspective. Let’s take the squat example because the math is easy. Let’s say that when I’m doing the squat, let’s say I weigh 200 pounds and let’s say that each leg would traditionally do 100 pounds. Traditionally, if you do resistance training, when would you stop if you were just doing squats? You would do squats and then you would stop when you could no longer lift yourself. So you would stop when your leg muscles — each leg — could no longer lift 100 pounds. Right? But you and I both know that just because your leg muscles can’t lift 100 pounds, that doesn’t actually mean your muscles are completely fatigued because they could probably lower 100 pounds.

Let’s say, instead, you’re doing an assisted eccentric squat and you squat down with 150 pounds on your right leg but then when you squat up, you’re only lifting 100 pounds because you’re evenly balancing the weight between your two legs. Now, when do you stop? You stop when you can no longer lower 150 pounds. So you’re stopping at a much further point in terms of muscular hypertrophy or actually working and causing healthy damage to the muscle. You’re activating more muscle fibers, you’re requiring more force, and you will get more results than you ever have.

Again, the cool thing is, let’s say, squats don’t work for you because you have a pre-existing condition or let’s say you really don’t like push-ups because you feel like you’re going to fall and break your nose or there is really no way for you to do pull-ups in your house or you don’t like shoulder press because you have a torn rotator cuff. You don’t have to do those four exercises. They’re just four examples of how you can take a body weight exercise you can do at home and do it eccentrically and get better results. Does that make sense from an at-home eccentric perspective?

Male: I think it totally does. We do have pixelfrow [sp?] who says, “I don’t know if he’s ever tried to do a pull-up in a rickety old English house but he would pull the house down around him.” Do you have any suggestions for people who might not have somewhere in their house that they can do that?

Jonathan: Absolutely. Generally — we’re going to go very, very general here — but a pull-up is just a rowing motion above your head. You can do a rowing motion in front of your body as well and an incredibly inexpensive way to add resistance to a rowing position in front of your body is these resistance bands. You can grab a set of really good resistance bands on Amazon.com for maybe fifty bucks and when I say “really good,” I mean, if you want 80 pounds of resistance — like, a significant amount of resistance — there are resistance bands for that.

Let me show you really quick how you would do a resistance band row eccentrically or with an eccentric emphasis at home. Again, remember, we’re not talking about new and different exercises. We’re not saying, If you love doing bicep curls, you can’t do bicep curls anymore. We’re just saying, If you want your bicep curls to work even better, to fire even more muscle fibers, just focus on the eccentric portion.

Remember, pull-up was a row above your head basically. We’re going to do a row in front of your body. All you need — if you’re in a rickety cabin, you may still pull it down doing this but maybe it’ll be a little bit less likely to pull it down. What you would do is, just get the resistance band positioned in front of you and then you would row back — look at that, I’m moving the thing. You would just row back and then come forward. This is the traditional movement you’ve been taught. That’s the concentric, that’s the eccentric; concentric, eccentric. Learning the basic movement is no different than it’s ever been and anyone who understands exercise physiology can teach you the basic movement.

How would you do this eccentrically? You could slowly lower it more. You could focus on squeezing at the most difficult position, which is right here at the top. Alternatively, you could row and then transfer all of the resistance to one arm, assist yourself, and slowly lower it down with one arm. You very well may not — and this is a great way to prove to yourself that you’re stronger eccentrically than you are concentrically. It’s kind of a fun experiment. Find a resistance that you could easily do this with but you cannot do this with and notice how, if you do this but then try to lower it with one arm, you will be able to because you are, in fact, stronger eccentrically than you are concentrically.