Boston-based personal trainer Sarah J. Rogers discusses the need to focus on muscle contraction when working out, something that many people overlook when they go to the gym. Sarah is a lifelong athlete, a licensed massage therapist, certified personal trainer, and uses neuromuscular therapy, Active Isolated Stretching, and myofascial release to help her personal training clients achieve their goals. You can find her online here.
Learning about different types of muscle contractions has really changed how I train.
The eccentric contraction (muscle activation while lengthening) has possibly been the most useful and mind-opening. Most of us, when doing a bench press for example, think about dropping the barbell back down quickly so we can prep for the next rep.
Studies have shown that focusing on the eccentric contraction (in this case, it would be that downward motion of the barbell back towards our sternum),not only improves our strength drastically, but it is also extremely helpful in building strength in a wider range of motion.
When doing a squat, a bench press, bicep curls, think about the motion that brings you back to what is commonly known as the “starting point”… and try to slow that motion down. We often get shaky during those last few inches and it is often those last few inches where we are most prone to injury as we lengthen a muscle. You will be surprised to find out that you get worn out after fewer reps.
Try knocking the weight down to 50-60% of your normal heavy weight and instead of 12 reps, do 8 nice and slow, focusing on that eccentric contraction.
This is applicable to pushups, pullups and other bodyweight exercises too, so you do not have to have equipment to notice the same benefits. Mixing this type of contraction and pacing with other variations will help with injury prevention and overall conditioning.