Unless you have learned to maximize the eccentric component of your training, you are likely selling yourself short in your athletic pursuits. (And if you don’t know what eccentric based training is, you will learn that in this article too!)
If you have been around the training world for a while, you are probably familiar with the three phases of muscular contraction: eccentric, isometric, and concentric. For those who are unfamiliar, the following bullet points should help you straighten things out.
- Eccentric contraction: A lengthening contraction of muscle. Examples would be lowering the dumbbell in an arm curl, or descending into a squat. An eccentric portion of dynamic movement would be lowering down into a half-squat in preparation to jump upwards in a vertical jump. The eccentric portion of the jump is where the majority of the energy of the jump is stored. Eccentric loads can bring about forces 160% as high as can be found in the “concentric” or “up-phase”. If too much energy is lost in the eccentric portion of the jump or sprint, performance will suffer.
- Isometric contraction: A contraction of muscle where the muscle stays the same length. This is going to be the transition point between the eccentric and concentric phases of movement. The isometric phase needs to be as stable as possible. An example of this phase would be the time between the down and up phase of the jump where the movement stops. Single leg and some running two leg jumps can actually start with a form of the isometric phase, as the body is trying to use the legs as rigid levers to propel the athlete upwards. This phase needs to be as strong and stable as humanly possible. It also needs to be very short to preserve elastic energy. Holding the isometric phase for too long because of poor strength or coordination will cause a dissipation in energy.
- Concentric contraction: A contraction of muscle where positive work is done and the muscle shortens. This would be the “up” motion of a dumbbell curl, bench press, or squat. It would also be the part of a vertical jump where the body is pushed upwards by the contracting muscles. The strength of this phase is highly dependent on the two phases that have happened before it. When an athlete says “I squat 400lbs”, what they mean in biomechanical terms is that: “They can concentrically produce 400lbs of force from a deep squat position.” Now nobody actually goes around and says this, but that is really what ends up happening. This is where weight training differs from athletic movement in that typically the eccentric loads are significantly lower and transitioned less rapidly than what is encountered in dynamic sport.
Everybody can use an increased vertical leap! The power jumper is one way to speed up and overload the eccentric portion of a jump by the elastic bands “pulling” the jumper down into the bottom position.
For the world of training athletes, the rate and power in which eccentric loading occurs must be mastered. Although traditional strength training is dissimilar to jumping and running in terms of the emphasis on the phases of movement, unless you are strong enough in the weightroom to at least squat bodyweight with good form, you don’t have much of a chance in terms of rapid eccentric loading during your dynamic movement. Most times I have seen athletes who are painfully slow when it comes to a fast eccentric/concentric reversal in jumping, they are also pretty weak in the weightroom.
In my mind, strength training should always be complimented by effective movement drills, such as jumping, sprinting, special strength, and movement efficiency. For jumpers especially, overspeed eccentrics focusing on the hip joint cannot be neglected in training.
First off, what is an overspeed eccentric? Well, for a jumping athlete, that would mean that the eccentric portion of the jump is “loaded” faster than normal jumping. The faster that an athlete can load his or her muscles with potential energy via eccentric loading, the faster and more powerfully that they can release it in the next two phases. As some great coaches* have said: “slow jumping = low jumping”. Many athletes have to become accustomed to this type of performance however. Often times asking athletes who have a fairly low training age to start jumping by dipping down quickly may cause a temporary decrease in jump height, but once the motor pattern is solidified, performance will jump back up.
This overspeed loading is also the principle behind depth jumps, as gravity speeds up the rate of eccentric loading, which will have a positive carryover into performance. Now depth jumps are a fantastic way to increase vertical leap… probably the best way along with increasing strength, depending on your needs. The depth jump is what is known as a whole body plyometric though, and causes massive amounts of CNS drain, which means that you can’t use them all that often, and will have to cycle them in and out of training setups.
When it comes to improving performance, and improving it fast, athletes are going to want to spend time on the specific joints that are most important to performance improvement. In the case of jumpers and sprinters alike, this would be the hip joint.
In my own opinion, there are three great ways to give an instant spike to your training results by taking time to focus on the overspeed loading of the hip. These three exercises are:
- Kettlebell swings and variations
- Overhead shot/medicine ball throws
- Drop-catch lifts in the weightroom
This video shows kettlebells being used to maximize the eccentric loading of the hip
In the next two or three articles, these training methods will be covered in detail, as covering all three in this article would be a bit lengthy. Stay tuned for part II, which will provide some eye opening insight into the advantage of the kettlebell!