I think many of our athletes, and CrossFitters in general, are sabotaging their strength by not working the eccentric phase of movements. Think about it, we drop everything. From the deadlift to the push-up, to the pull-up, and all moves in between, we never work the eccentric phase of a movement because we are dropping the weight.
What is the eccentric phase and why is it important for strength training?
Well, there are three types, or phases of muscle contraction, concentric, eccentric, and isometric. The concentric phase is muscle-shortening, think pulling your chin over the bar in a pull-up. In the eccentric phase, there is a lengthening of the muscle, think letting yourself down in the pull-up. In the isometric phase, there is no change in the muscle, think holding your chin statically over the bar in a pull-up or another example would be a plank hold.
During the eccentric phase, also known as the negative phase, the muscle is being lengthened under tension, which leads to tiny tears in the muscle and thus muscle soreness. If any of you have ever done a few sets of slow negative pull-ups then you likely know how sore they make you. This is due to the “damage” caused to the muscle tissue. The cool thing about this though is that is how the muscle becomes stronger. You see, the muscle has to be “torn down” to be built up. So, as those tiny tears heal your strength increases.
I used the pull-up as an example but where I have seen a huge increase in my own personal strength is in the deadlift. I developed a habit of, especially on multiple reps, dropping my deadlift at the top of the lift. (End range of the concentric phase) Then, when we began one of our strength cycles I made it a point, even on the last rep, to focus on not only the concentric phase, but also the eccentric phase of the lift. I almost immediately felt the effects. (Hamstring were sore like crazy the next few days) If you think logically about it, what you are doing is spending more time under tension. More time under tension leads to…. Increased strength!
So, how do you implement eccentric/negative training into our CrossFit workouts? There are numerous ways but one example would be…. Let us say we are doing five rounds of 10 pull-ups and your coach has you scaling to jumping pull-ups. You could do three negatives on each round and the remainder would be jumping pull-ups. What we want, again, is time under tension to illicit change and increase strength. NOTE: you do not want to do high-rep negatives because of the damage they cause. This is why I suggested a few reps per round. It would also apply to a workout that included dips, push-ups, handstand push-ups, ring rows, etc.
I realize that most everything we do in CrossFit is for time and we are taught how to be most efficient. However, to become better, especially strength wise we have to work on our weakness. What I suggest is to stop worrying about the clock until you have developed the requisite strength to do the movement properly. (Consistency before intensity)
Change Your Mindset
Again, we are challenged daily to go fast and be most efficient but that also requires moving well and moving safely. By building strength in the ALL phases of movement, we will in-turn be better, more well rounded, athletes.
Fit for life inside and outside the box!