Strength Training Tips: Eccentric Training and Super-Setting

Last week I posted a blog that focused on two of the many ways to increase strength training intensity: increasing the total load and decreasing the amount of time between sets. If you missed that newsletter, check out my blog post, “Two Simple Ways to Increase Strength Training Intensity.”

This week I want to highlight two other ways to ratchet up the efficacy of your strength training.There’s a very specific recipe to build muscle: work the muscle; feed the muscle; rest the muscle. Within this recipe are many variables, and depending on how they are manipulated, you will either mitigate or enhance your results.

Eccentric training is one of my favorite ways to milk every second of my workout. Eccentric training emphasizes the eccentric, or “negative” phase of the contraction—that is, when the muscle fibers are lengthening rather than shortening. There are many ways to train eccentrically, but one easy way to incorporate the principles of eccentric training into your workout is to dramatically slow down the eccentric (or negative) phase of the contraction.

Let’s use a standard biceps curl as an example: the concentric (or positive) phase of the contraction is when you flex your elbow, resulting in a shortening of the muscle fibers.  The eccentric (or negative) phase of the contraction is when you extend your elbow and your arm returns to its starting position.

When you perform the concentric phase at a normal rate or even a controlled, explosive rate and emphasize the eccentric phase by dramatically slowing it down, you increase stress on the muscle fibers.  Mechanical stress on muscle fibers is what makes them grow.  I teach my clients to “drag it” and feel every muscle fiber lengthen.

This will work regardless of your fitness level, as you will select a weigh with which you can do 8 to 10 repetitions, max.  In all forms of training, “high intensity” is always relative.

Using this principle, here’s how I make my shoulder press really difficult: using a barbell with plates, I explode overhead (being careful not to jolt my elbows into hyperextension), and then lower it very slowly until my elbows are bent to 90 degrees. When my elbows are bent at 90 degrees, I pause in this position for 5 seconds and then explode overhead again.  Between executing the eccentric phase of the contraction slowly and pausing for 5 seconds with my elbows at a 90 degree angle, I reach failure after 6-7 repetitions using a 70 pound load.  Try this technique, adjusting it to your current level of strength.

Another great way to not only increase the intensity of your training but also save time is to super-set your exercises.  Super-sets are two different exercises performed back-to-back without rest in-between.

As with all training protocols, there are many ways to use super-sets in your routine. You can super-set with two totally different muscle groups or within the same muscle group.

For example, if you’re training your back, doing a seated cable row, which uses the biceps and the rhomboids, could easily be superset with a lat pull-down, which uses the biceps and the latissimus dorsi.  The caveat here is that both exercises use the biceps, so fatigue in your arms will be your limiting factor.

When I super-set two exercises within my back training or my chest training, for example, I try to create a super-set in which one of the two exercises is executed with extended elbows (straight arms).  By doing so, my biceps or triceps can be resting while I’m performing one of the two exercises.  This eliminates fatigue in my arms as a limiting factor.

Another way of super-setting is to select two unrelated exercises so certain muscles are totally resting while others are working.  A simple example of this is to super-set a biceps curl with a triceps press.  Since the biceps and the triceps are opposing muscles, this super-set combination is effective and easy to execute.

The benefit of super-setting is two-fold: you dramatically reduce the time you spend training, as you essentially eliminate rest periods. Also, you naturally increase your heart rate during your exercise session, as you are contracting your muscles almost every minute of your workout.

Try these two techniques and let me know how you do!  Email me at!

Shine on!

Tara Marie