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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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August 09, 2012

Why You Should Lift and Lower Heavy Things

By Guest
179 Comments

This is a guest post from Jonathan Bailor of The Smarter Science of Slim and JonathanBailor.com.

“Eccentric training has been shown to produce greater muscle hypertrophy than concentric training as a result of greater ability for maximal force generating capacity during eccentric contractions.” – J.P. Farthing, University of Saskatchewan

In a guest post a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d be back to talk more about research supporting the Primal principle of “lifting heavy things.” Let’s do it.

Women Won’t Look Like Men and Men Won’t Look Like Bulldogs

Before digging into the details about lifting or lowering anything, it is important to address a common fear that exercising with heavy things makes women look like men and men look like bulldogs. The best way to address this fear is to understand our biology. Everyone has a gene called GDF-8, and that controls a substance called myostatin, which controls the amount of muscle we have and how much muscles develop naturally. The base levels of myostatin and muscle in basically all women and most men make it impossible for them to naturally build bulky muscles. It does not matter how much resistance we use. The majority of us—especially women—do not have the genes to build bulky muscles via any form of exercise.

Myostatin (GDF-8), a member of the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-?) superfamily of secreted growth and differentiation factors, is a negative regulator of skeletal muscle growth. Loss of myostatin function is associated with an increase in muscle mass in mice, cows, and humans.

– M.N. Elkasrawy, Medical College of Georgia

I find it useful to think about muscle size like muscle speed. Few people are fast because few people have “fast genes.” No matter how much most people run, they will never get faster than their genes allow. However, if people do have the genetics for speed, they will naturally be faster than most people without ever training. Similarly, few people can become bulky because few people—particularly women—have “bulky genes.” No matter how much most people resistance train, they will never develop more muscle than their genes allow.

With our minds at ease let’s move on to…

Why Conventional Wisdom Fails, While Lifting Heavy Things Works

These findings indicate that type II muscle has a previously unappreciated role in regulating whole-body metabolism through its ability to alter the metabolic properties of remote tissues. These data also suggest that strength training, in addition to the widely prescribed therapy of endurance training, may be of particular benefit to overweight individuals.

– Y. Izumiya, Boston University

Why does conventional wisdom tell us to exercise via jogging, riding a bike, etc. for an hour per day? Because these activities involve our large leg muscles. The thinking is that the more muscle exercised, the better our results. At least conventional wisdom (CW) got that much right.

But here’s where CW comes up short: It is physiologically impossible for any amount of CW’s “cardio” to actually exercise as much muscle as possible. In fact, CW exercise approaches only activate one of the four types of muscle fibers we have. Doing more of it simply works that one type of muscle fiber over and over. And sadly, the singular type of muscle fiber it exercises is the least effective at triggering the hormonal reaction required to most efficiently burn body fat while preserving lean tissue…aka the hormonal reaction that enables us to look lean and fit rather than like a near-death bag of bones.

To dig a bit deeper into why CW fails, and lifting heavy things succeeds, we need to understand four principles of how our muscles function:

  1. We have different types of muscle fibers which do different things.
  2. The more force a fiber generates, the less endurance it has.
  3. We cannot work more forceful fibers without also working less forceful fibers.
  4. The more forceful a fiber, the more metabolic benefit we get from exercising it.

Different Types of Fibers, Different Levels of Force and Endurance

Like we have different muscles to do different things, we have different muscle fibers to do different things. This is critical to understand because just as we select specific exercises to work specific muscles, we can select specific exercises to work specific muscle fibers. For example, type 1 muscle fibers allow us to do low-force work for a long period of time. We work them when we do an hour of CW’s “cardio.” In contrast, our type 2b muscle fibers allow us to do a high-force work for a short period of time. We work them when we lift heavy things for a few seconds.

Well, that’s not exactly true…

Working More Forceful Fibers Works All Fibers and Is Uniquely Beneficial

First, high-intensity exercise training induces secretion of lipolytic [fat-burning] hormones including growth hormone and epinephrine, which may facilitate greater post-exercise energy expenditure and fat oxidation. Second, it has been reported that under equivalent levels of energy expenditure high-intensity exercise training favors a greater negative energy balance compared to low-intensity exercise training.”

B.A. Irving, University of Virginia

When we do high-force and short-duration exercise we don’t exclusively work our type 2b fibers. We work all of our less forceful fibers and our type 2b fibers. We try to lift something heavy, and our muscles first try to generate enough force with our weakest type 1 fibers. Those do not generate enough force, so our muscles also activate our more forceful type 2a fibers to help. Still not enough? Keep the type 1 and type 2a fibers going and add the stronger type 2x fibers. More? Don’t stop working the other three and bring in our most powerful type 2b fibers. Thanks to this cumulative activation of all of our muscle fibers (known as orderly recruitment in physiology circles), Primal exercise actually enables us to do what CW attempts to do: exercise the most muscle possible.

Even better, recent research reveals that exercising our most forceful type 2b muscle fibers is uniquely metabolically beneficial. For instance, Y. Izumiya of Boston University studied mice in a clinical setting and learned that the development of type 2b muscle fibers:

…lead to a reduction in accumulated white adipose tissue and improvements in metabolic parameters independent of physical activity or changes in the level of food intake. These effects occur independently of muscle oxidative capacity and are associated with increases in fatty acid metabolism in liver…The results from the current study indicate that modest increases in type 2b skeletal muscle mass can have a profound systemic effect on whole-body metabolism and adipose mass.

Dr. Izumiya continues extolling type 2b muscle fiber development with:

The metabolic improvement in this model cannot be entirely explained by a reduction in fat-pad mass, indicating that type II muscle counteracts the actions of excess adipose tissue on whole-body metabolism. These findings indicate that type II muscle has a previously unappreciated role in regulating whole-body metabolism through its ability to alter the metabolic properties of remote tissues.

He also states that these muscle fibers improved “insulin sensitivity and [caused] reductions in blood glucose, insulin, and leptin levels,” and that, “these effects occurred despite a reduction in physical activity.” Sign me up!

When it comes to long-term fat loss and lean tissue preservation, CW, common sense, and science all agree that the more muscle we exercise the better. The issue is how we actually do that. It’s literally impossible via low-force CW exercise. Our muscles just don’t work that way. We need to work with more force. We need to exercise Primally. We need to lift heavy things—and as we’ll see next—lower heavy things.

Lowering Heavy Things to Maximize Muscular Force

Every exercise has two parts: lifting the resistance and lowering the resistance. Lifting the resistance is called the concentric portion of the exercise. Concentric is when the muscle contracts. Lowering the resistance is called the eccentric portion of the exercise. Eccentric is when the muscle extends. Lifting weights—the concentric action—gets the most attention, but research shows that lowering weights—the eccentric action—can get us more results since safely and slowly lowering heavy things enables us to generate more force. M. Roig at the University of British Columbia found that “Eccentric training performed at high intensities was shown to be more effective in promoting increases in muscle.” Why? E.J. Higbie at University of Georgia tells us, “Greater maximum force can be developed during maximal eccentric muscle actions than during concentric.” And N.D. Reeves at Manchester Metropolitan University echoes with, “Muscles are capable of developing much higher forces when they contract eccentrically compared with when they contract concentrically.”

If you’d like to see how much stronger you are “on the way down,” hop on a seated row or chest press machine (or any exercise that moves on a horizontal plane—to eliminate the influence of gravity) and select a weight that you cannot lift with one arm but can lift easily with two arms. Lift it with two arms and cautiously relax one arm and observe as you are able to lower the resistance with one arm. You couldn’t lift the weight with one arm, but you could lower it with one arm because your muscles are literally stronger on the way down. You muscles can generate more force eccentrically—when lowering heavy things—than they can concentrically—when lifting things.

Over the past several decades, numerous studies have established that eccentric contractions can maximize the force exerted and the work performed by muscle…that they can attenuate the mechanical effects of impact forces; and that they enhance the [good] tissue damage associated with exercise.

– R.M. Enoka, Cleveland Clinic Foundation

The takeaway here is not to stop lifting heavy things. It’s to note that our muscles generate more force eccentrically, so lowering heavy things may enable us to activate even more of our uniquely helpful type 2b fibers. It’s another great exercise option for us. Here’s how to give eccentric exercise a whirl.

How to Lower Heavy Things

  1. Get warmed up by walking briskly or riding a bike for a few minutes.
  2. Pick a resistance you cannot lift with one arm or leg—depending on the exercise—but can easily lift with both arms or legs. Let’s say 50 pounds.
  3. Lift the resistance with both arms or legs. Each arm or leg is lifting about half the weight—25 pounds in this example.
  4. Lower the resistance with only one arm or leg for ten seconds. Each arm or leg slowly—count to 10—lowers all the weight—50 pounds in our example.
  5. Repeat until it is impossible to lower the resistance with only one arm or leg for ten seconds. If this takes more than six repetitions, gradually add resistance until it only takes six repetitions.
  6. Smile because previously you would have stopped doing this exercise when you could no longer lift 25 pounds per limb, and now you are stopping when you can no longer lower 50 pounds per limb.

Eccentric training resulted in greater hypertrophy than concentric training. We conclude that eccentric fast training is the most effective for muscle hypertrophy and strength gain.

– J.P. Farthing, University of Saskatchewan

With this technique we can lower heavy things in the comfort of our own home or at the gym. But before we go get eccentric, there are two important rules to keep in mind.

First, if we choose to exercise eccentrically on machines at our local gym, then we should only use machines that work both of our arms or both of our legs together. This is the only way to have less resistance on the way up and more on the way down. If we pick machines working our arms and legs independently, we will lift and lower the same amount of resistance. That defeats the whole purpose. Think about it this way. Say you grab a gallon of milk in each hand, lift them above your head, and then drop the one in your right hand to increase the resistance for your left hand. That does not work because lifting milk jugs works your arms independently. However, if you lifted one milk jug with each arm, but then lowered both jugs with only your left arm, you would lower more resistance with your left arm than you lifted with your left arm. Resistance training machines which work both of our arms or both of our legs together do the same thing.

Exercise with a maximal-eccentric component can induce increases in muscle…with shorter durations of work than other modes.

– M. Wernbom, Göteborg University

Second, exercise eccentrically only when little if any balance is needed. Just as you would not pick up a giant flat-screen TV with two hands and then let go with one, you should only exercise eccentrically when no balance is needed.

Putting these two rules together, we could:

  • Do a push-up with our knees on the floor (to reduce the resistance), and then lift our knees and lower ourselves (to increase the resistance). Our arms work together to lift a shared source of resistance (our body), and little if any balance is needed.
  • Stand up and then do a body weight squat down—while hanging on to something for balance—with one leg. Stand back up with two legs.
  • Stand on something to assist ourselves into getting to the top position of a pull-up, and then lower our full bodyweight down. Lift ourselves back up with the help of our legs.

You can imagine all sorts of ways to adapt these principles to any sort of workout. Just apply these three simple points:

  1. Lift resistance with both arms/legs. Lower resistance slowly with one arm/leg.
  2. Pick a shared source of resistance.
  3. Exercise eccentrically only when little if any balance is required.

As you start experimenting with lowering heavy things, keep in mind that…

More Muscle Worked Means More Recovery Time Needed

If we cut grass lower, we can mow our lawn less often. That is not some too-good-to-be-true gimmick. That is common sense. The more grass we cut off, the more time is needed to grow it back. Similarly, if we’re working more muscle fibers by exercising with more force, we can exercise less often. The more muscle fibers we exercise, the more time we need to recover.

How long your muscles take to recover is a great way to tell if you are exercising your type 2b muscle fibers. If you are able to lower heavy things on Monday and then lower the same heavy thing a day or two later, then your first workout didn’t work your type 2b fibers. If it did, those fibers will not be ready to go again one, two, three, four, or even five days later. Research reveals that type 2b muscle fibers need at least six days to recover.

Damage produced by eccentric exercise was more persistent than previously reported, indicating that more than 10 days may be necessary for recovery of muscle ultrastructure and carbohydrate reserves.

– K.P. O’Reilly, in the Journal of Applied Physiology

This is not to say that we should sit around in-between lowering heavy things. We should always heed the Primal principle to “move around a lot at a slow pace.” The point here is that if we’re exercising eccentrically effectively, we’ll be too sore to do much more than moving around at a slow pace for at least a few days afterward.

In Sum

My gym has two-pound weights. If you are using two-pound weights, how did you even open the door to the gym? What’s your dream? To pump up and open your mail?

– Dave Attell, Comic

CW’s “cardio” doesn’t work well because it requires little force and therefore works relatively little muscle. Lifting heavy things works because it requires a lot of force and therefore works a lot of muscle and our uniquely metabolically beneficial type 2b muscle fibers. Lowering heavy things can enable us to generate even more force and can be an excellent addition to a Primal lifestyle. Of course, do what works for you. My hope is that this research provides you with another option to assist with your long-term health and fitness goals.

Jonathan Bailor, The Smarter Science of Slim | facebook | twitter | youtube | podcast

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  • Vikne H, Refsnes PE, Ekmark M, Medbø JI, Gundersen V, Gundersen K. Muscular performance after concentric and eccentric exercise in trained men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Oct;38(10):1770-81. PubMed PMID: 17019299.
  • Watkins, P.H (2010) Augmented Eccentric Loading: Theoretical and Practical Applications for the Strength and Conditioning Professional. Professional Strength and Conditioning, UKSCA Issue 17, pp4-12
  • Weigle DS, Sande KJ, Iverius PH, Monsen ER, Brunzell JD. Weight loss leads to a marked decrease in nonresting energy expenditure in ambulatory human subjects. Metabolism. 1988 Oct;37(10):930-6. PubMed PMID: 3173112.
  • Wernbom M, Augustsson J, Thomeé R. The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross-sectional area in humans. Sports Med. 2007;37(3):225-64. Review. PubMed PMID: 17326698.
  • Wilcox G. Insulin and insulin resistance. Clin Biochem Rev. 2005 May;26(2):19-39. PubMed PMID: 16278749; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1204764.
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179 Comments on "Why You Should Lift and Lower Heavy Things"

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Paleo Bon Rurgundy
4 years 1 month ago

I miss slowly lowering my beer mug to the bar, aka 22oz curls.

Elvis Vader
Elvis Vader
4 years 1 month ago

I used to call it working out with 16oz curls in descending weights. Heh.

Matthew
Matthew
4 years 1 month ago

Wouldn’t you be using more force to lift it than putting it down? Assuming you actually drank the beer 😛

Groktimus Primal
4 years 1 month ago

Wow! More real science than all the Muscle and Witless mags put together 🙂

Mike B
Mike B
4 years 1 month ago

Wait, so you mean my bicep-and-ab-workout-day is malarkey? SAY IT AIN’T SO!!! =P

Bornagainscholar
Bornagainscholar
4 years 1 month ago

That is because the muscle mags would assume anyone reading that actually lifts weights would already understand this elementary information. Therefore, to keep their loyal readers they choose not to write about the most boring basic muscle biology. As I was reading this I couldn’t help knowing this information intuitively when I was exercising at the local YMCA when I was only in 4th grade.

Fritzy
Fritzy
4 years 1 month ago

Um–doubtful. If this “boring” information is so intuitive, why does conventional wisdom get it so wrong? Why do I see so many fat people at the gym struggling on the eliptical, because that’s what their doctor AND trainer have instructed them to do in order to “lose weight.” Hell, they even do this nonsense on “The Biggest Loser?”

You get it, Bornagain–good for you. Most people don’t. Don’t be patronizing.

Dan
4 years 1 month ago

I bet you’re hee-yoooge!

Max Ungar
4 years 1 month ago

That was quite a long list of sources. Great post! I guess this means I shouldn’t be dropping my deadlifts anymore 🙁

Sabreur
Sabreur
4 years 1 month ago

As a general rule, you shouldn’t be dropping anything when you lift. If you can’t control the weight on the way up and on the way down, you’re lifting too much weight and are risking injury.

On the upside, insisting on controlling the weight on the way up and on the way down means a higher-quality workout. So even if you have to reduce weight or reps, you’re actually exercising *more* while reducing your injury risk. So win/win. 🙂

Max Ungar
4 years 1 month ago

Awesome! Thanks Sabreur!

Andrew
Andrew
4 years 1 month ago

So you’re saying when I clean and jerk 225 I should then gracefully lower it back to my shoulders, waist, and finally the ground? Not a chance.

chris
chris
4 years 1 month ago
MarkA
MarkA
4 years 1 month ago
Keep in mind that this is an extreme exercise and you are lifting the weight in a completely different way. Clean and jerk consists of two sudden motions that rely partially on the momentum of the weights to get them into the final position to press over your head. You’re using a lot of different muscles in your body to get the weight moving. You aren’t using a slow gradual motion to lift the weight, nor would you be able to. So it’s not really the expectation that you should just be able to do a slow-motion reverse of your… Read more »
Lex
Lex
4 years 1 month ago

Dude, no. Reverse-deadlifting is a terrible idea, unless you really want to throw out your back.

Lance
Lance
4 years 1 month ago

Controlling the weight during descent on deadlift is the right way to do it.

If you can’t control the weight, then more core work is necessary. If you’re worried about your back, then you’re doing it wrong.

However, Olympic lifts are exempt from this rule.

rob
rob
4 years 1 month ago

This is wrong.

This is the kind of mentality that gets people to sign up at Planet Fitness where members are afraid of heavy weight.

Olympic style weight lifting would be impossible if they followed your ‘put it down gently’ rule.

Liz
Liz
4 years 1 month ago

Haha, Totally agree with the Planet Fitness thing… I go there because I got a connection to get in free but every time I assume people are mad at me if I flex in a mirror or make any sounds whatsoever while lifting. It’s like its offensive to know what your doing or something!?

Eric
Eric
4 years 1 month ago
Interesting post. I have two questions (and one for Mark): 1.) Regarding gene expression. One of the primary points of PB is that your genes will reprogram expression to external stimuli. Therefore would not muscle bulking be the result of weight lifting regardless of not having a genetic predisposition to bulking? 2.) I seem to recall Dr. Noakes reporting in the Lore of Running that Type II fibers will be recruited in cardio training after Type I fibers become exhausted and thereby trained to be type I fibers. So it seems that cardio can indeed exercise all of your muscles?… Read more »
Josh
Josh
4 years 1 month ago

Regarding question 3, I understood that statement as one cannot sprint faster than one’s genes will allow. The basis for this thought being a predetermined percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Sabreur
Sabreur
4 years 1 month ago
1. Yes and no. PB won’t rewrite your DNA – we are all limited by what our genes code for. The catch is that most of us (99%) aren’t anywhere *near* our full genetic potential. What PB *can* do is change how your genes express themselves. This is probably oversimplifying, but think of your genes as a protein factory – different genes code for different proteins which do different things. Your lifestyle controls which parts of the ‘factory’ are active. No matter how much exercise I do, I can’t change what my DNA codes for – my ‘factory’ is already… Read more »
Bill C
Bill C
4 years 1 month ago
Re: 2.) I have also heard/read that you can change the ratio of your muscle fibers through excessive training of only one type fiber. Don’t recall how much is ‘excessive’ or the extent of change. It appears that such a shift could only go type 2 -> type 1. At any rate, I doubt such a change is desirable. Re: 3.) In the 12/6/2011 post, How to Train for a Marathon, Mark said “Truth is, if I put my mind to it, and you had elite level potential, I could most likely train some of you to win the thing… Read more »
Adam
Adam
4 years 1 month ago
What they both said. I can add a few specifics, though. 1. You will “bulk” in the sense that you will gain muscle mass, and may look “bulkier”, but you cannot become in the top percentages of bodybuilding/sports without a genetic predisposition towards that activity. Basically, the architecture of your skeletal system (bones) limits the amount of muscle fibers that can be attached to them. Genetic predisposition also controls how FAST you gain muscle, as well as your maximal genetic potential (slow vs hard gainer, even with proper heavy lifting). Lastly, and most importantly for performance, how efficient and speedy… Read more »
Josh
Josh
3 years 1 month ago

Type I and Type 2 don’t seem to mean as much based on TIm Ferris assessment here http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=9oTrhJar_IE&t=96

Milan
4 years 1 month ago
I can’t stand still today some of newly coming literature about health and fitness still recommend 30 minute of cardiovascular exercise on most days for optimal health. Do some of these authors not keep up with new stuff or they just want to write a book to file it to their resume. Just read the book the Healthiest You. The same stuff all over again – eat low fat diet, stay away from saturated fat, do 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every day and on and on and on. Nothing new. All old and outdated. Yes, the new stuff like… Read more »
Stacie
4 years 1 month ago

I’m thinking I’m going to run into the same scenario at a fitness convention I want to attend the day before my first 5k. There’s also a workshop on “proper” nutrition before/during/after a race. I’m pretty certain this will be full of CW, so I don’t think I’ll attend.

Jim W
Jim W
4 years 1 month ago
Rest assured, if you exercise this way, you will be so sore you will not believe it. But you will also get results like you won’t believe as well. The muscle cells tear more this way, under force while expanding. Tears ’em right up. Then your body builds them up stronger than ever. Just hurts a little (lot), haha. Be a big boy and become a man. Negatives are the future! But don’t overdo it. Doing it right will make you sore enough. If I were to give advice (which I am not) I would say give the Advil a… Read more »
Erok
Erok
4 years 1 month ago

Traumeel is excellent stuff. Also, Arniflora makes an Arnica Gel which is what we’ve been using lately. Helps even more if you can sweet-talk someone into rubbing it in for you (:0)

Kariberry
Kariberry
4 years 1 month ago

“Be a big boy and become a man”

It sounds like you’re channeling Hans and Franz from SNL! Ha ha (as for myself, I want to be a big girl and become a kick ass chick).

Jim W
Jim W
4 years 1 month ago

You will kick ass better as long as you avoid cardio. If you are still doing cardio you need to “Vake up und smell ze muscle!” Zen you can get to ass kicking!”

jake3_14
jake3_14
4 years 1 month ago

Supplementing with BCAA (pre- and post- workout) can reduce the pain (I won’t detail the mechanisms here; just Google it) of a hard workout, as can L-Glutamine. If you enjoy DOMS on a mental level, then you don’t need to supplement. But if you want maximum gain with minimum pain, I recommend investigating these two.

2Tall
2Tall
4 years 1 month ago

I’ll link this the next time I can’t convince someone not to drop their deadlift at the top.

Brad
Brad
4 years 1 month ago

Just tell them there’s a special place in hell for people who drop their deadlifts. I hate that with a passion.

Sabreur
Sabreur
4 years 1 month ago

On a related note, dropping weights is a sign that they are lifting too much and risking injury. Controlling the weight on the way down is a better workout *and* is safer. That might help convince them!

john
4 years 1 month ago

Umm, people can lower more than they can pull. So how is dropping the weight a sign that it is too heavy?

Eccentrics have their uses, but there is also a special place in hell for people who drop everything at the call of their guru.

Nicole
Nicole
4 years 1 month ago

They may have the technique down on how to use momentum to get that much weight up, but they cannot *control* what they have lifted, thus it is too heavy for them to safely lift.

G-dog
G-dog
4 years 1 month ago

Why does one have to *control* what they lift? There is no need for me to control the weight of a deadlift. I lift it correctly and then set it down. I don’t need to wave it around like a wizard’s wand. It is not too heavy for me to lift, otherwise I wouldn’t of lifted it, however it is too heavy for me do unnecessary things with.

Scott
Scott
4 years 1 month ago
the gym I use has a set of machines by a company called Exerbotics. It’s computerized that adjusts the resistance (up or down)based upon how hard you push. The speed of the rep is set by the machine so that the harder you push the greater the resistance the equipment pushed back against your effort. In the concentric portion of, say, the bench press your goal is to try and stop the movement. The benefit of this equipment is that each and every rep (of an 8 rep set) can be a maximum effort if you put out hard enough.… Read more »
Scott
Scott
4 years 1 month ago

oops I meant to say eccentric portion of the bench

Orielwen
4 years 1 month ago

Thanks for the comprehensive reference list – fandabby!

I’ve obviously been working out far too lightly. Will attempt some reverse work from now on.

yoolieboolie
yoolieboolie
4 years 1 month ago
Since “strong is the new skinny” and this information can help my strength gains considerably through a new understanding of how my body works I owe you a debt of thanks. Too many times the scientific stuff goes way over my head. Thank you for breaking it down so I could grasp what you were saying and further giving examples of how to apply it in my home. Especially the recovery time information. I’ll no longer be hearing any negative self-talk from the monkey in my mind if I am too sore to do negative pull-ups more than a couple… Read more »
primal aly
primal aly
4 years 1 month ago

Thought I was the only one with a monkey in my mind… 🙂 LOVE that mental image. Thank you!

BigSwifty
BigSwifty
4 years 1 month ago

This article is awesome. I used to do “negatives” (i.e. having someone help you lift heavy weight and then you slowly let it down) on lifts like bench press and I swore that it helped improve my strength by leaps and bounds. It’s great to see that I’m not crazy.

Brad
Brad
4 years 1 month ago

This sounds promising, but as someone who doesn’t believe in machine exercises, this might be hard to put into practice. How would you do this with a squat, for instance? You’d have to do it balanced, which would mean lowering a heavy wait to the squat position, racking it, then unloading the weight, putting the bar back into the loading position, then putting back on the weights, the lowering again. And no, I’m not going to do a leg press one legged.

Joshua
Joshua
4 years 1 month ago

I think at the end he suggested a bodyweight pistol squat. Two legs up, one leg down. If that is too easy for you, then I am impressed and a weight vest would be the answer.

rob
rob
4 years 1 month ago

Wow that is a lot of references!

Vytas
Vytas
4 years 1 month ago

So are free weights ruled out for eccentric exercise due to lack of balancing? Is something like a Bowflex better for a home gym scenario?

I prefer exercising at home and just have a set of dumb bells right now. What’s the best way to go here?

Stacie
4 years 1 month ago

I was wondering the same thing. For squats you could easily do two legs up, one leg down and I also liked the push up idea of raising and lowering your knees. But what about exercises like rows when you have a dumb bell in each hand? I don’t like going to a gym anymore and prefer to workout at home or outside using body weight exercises with dumb bells…perhaps a workout post on eccentric lifting at home?

SteveO
SteveO
4 years 1 month ago

Try swinging the weight to full contraction, then gently lowering it. That uses the momentum of the weight as an assist, and then you’re on your own in the eccentric phase. This is what happens in a kettlebell swing, for example.

You can also lift with both hands and lower with one, alternating sides each lift.

Jim
Jim
4 years 1 month ago

These articles to “hack” exercise are ridiculous. Mark, please get Brooks Kubik to do a guest post and enough of this ‘scientific’ stuff!

Corey
Corey
4 years 1 month ago

What works for some may not work for all. Just because it’s “ridiculous” for you to consider doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to some out there. Some of us like the in-depth analyses contained in Mark’s articles explaining the biological process and thought behind the physical activity (that’s all that “scientific stuff.”)

Don’t hate. (Get) educate(d).

Patrick
Patrick
4 years 1 month ago

So tech question: We should only emphasize the eccentric portion if it’s a two-limbed lift? What if we are doing something like dumbbell bench press, and we go really slowly on the eccentric portion? Would this still not be effective because we should be doing more weight since we have to actually press it up as well? I like the idea, maybe I should re-read.

primal aly
primal aly
4 years 1 month ago

Maybe work with a partner so he/she can help you lift the “too heavy” weight and spot you on the lowering?

Tony
Tony
4 years 1 month ago
Wow Mark is actually suggesting setting foot inside of a gym. What an amazing concept. This goes against most every other principal mark has taught to do with exercise. Let’s not forgot how Mark originally got all these muscles you see on him, cardio and weightlifting, at extensive amounts of it. I am disgusted at this falsehood Mark implys that by simply eating primal, not wearing shoes and doing pullups after you have frolicked down the beach with 5 gallon water jugs will get you looking like him. Look at all the transformations he posts. They all start out fat,… Read more »
Jesse
Jesse
4 years 1 month ago

Uhh… at what point, exactly, does Mark ever claim that you can get to look like him by just eating primally and wearing Vibrams? Lifting Heavy Things and Sprinting are 2 of the 10 primal laws. Anyone who just “eats primal and doesn’t wear shoes” and then gets mad that they don’t look like a greek god just is not paying attention.

Stacie
4 years 1 month ago

+1

Joshua
Joshua
4 years 1 month ago

In what deserted wasteland do you live that you can’t find more heavy things outside to lift than you can inside. Mark got muscled up by cardio? Have you seen the pictures of him when he was in that mode? Less muscle than most couch potatoes.

Paul
Paul
4 years 1 month ago

This is a guest post!

Adam
Adam
4 years 1 month ago

Somebody’s a negative nancy today. I think your points have already been eviscerated though, so I won’t waste my time going through them ^-^

primal aly
primal aly
4 years 1 month ago

Uh. Have you read the book? Not sure we are talking about the same Mark…

Ronnie
Ronnie
4 years 1 month ago

Excellent article and comprehensive list of resources!

I would love to see more studies done about the potential muscle damage that can be caused by eccentric movements (especially improperly performed). In my own experience, I (stupidly) got rhabdo from doing a high number of band-assisted pull-ups in a short amount of time (thank you, CrossFit…). I’m suspecting the fast negatives, downward (eccentric) movement was a culprit of the rapid breakdown of my muscle tissue. My doctors were baffled by my suspicions and didn’t seem to agree. Are there any sources available that could shed some light on this?

Erok
Erok
4 years 1 month ago

I just found some references by Dr. Will Wright on the crossfit web site journal under medical/injuries. It would appear they’re aware of rhabdo occurrences in their affiliates. I also remember reading somewhere about rhabdo happening as a result of intense massage sessions – scary.

Ronnie
Ronnie
4 years 1 month ago

I’m not looking for occurrences of rhabdo at CF affiliates, but the increased potential for eccentric movements to cause rhabdo due to more muscle fiber use, etc. Any ideas?

Catarina
Catarina
3 years 10 months ago
http://www.eatmoveimprove.com/2010/09/looking-at-rhabdomyolysis/ “Damage can occur during concentric and isometric exercise; however, most of the damage induced to the muscles occurs during eccentric exercise or negatives. Eccentric exercise is the strongest form of exercise allowing the muscles to handle upwards of 120-125% of the load that can be lifted concentrically. As the muscle lengthens under eccentric load, the sarcomeres (individual contraction units of the muscle) are unable to support the tension and thus “pop” and distend uncontrollably which is the cause the disruption of the sarcomere plasma membrane. Too much damage results in a loss of structural integrity of the sarcoplasmic reticulum… Read more »
Neil
Neil
4 years 1 month ago
“The point here is that if we’re exercising eccentrically effectively, we’ll be too sore to do much more than moving around at a slow pace for at least a few days afterward.” I understand the logic of short, intense, brief exercise. But, being sore for a few days afterwards seems to suggest that the reward isn’t worth the effort. Imagine a boxer or some other athlete not be able to practice their sport at a high intensity because they were sore from weight training. Who wants to spend the majority of ones time in pain? There are more easier ways… Read more »
Stacie
4 years 1 month ago

I was also thinking about this. I played volleyball in college and could not imagine being able to practice if I was so sore I couldn’t or wouldn’t want to lift for 6 days. My guess is that this soreness period is for those who are not highly trained, and perhaps people who are more trained are able to lift heavy and recover quicker?

Adam
Adam
4 years 1 month ago
I think it’s actually the other way around. If you are heavily trained, you will likely have a more intense workout with proper form that, I shudder to suggest, isolates the proper muscle groups (even if this “group” is half your body, it’s cheating if you incorporate the other half with sloppy form). Unless you are highly trained and thus really committed to intense workouts, or have a personal trainer to push you, it is unlikely that your workouts are intense enough to merit a 6 day recovery period. That’s why beginners to weights should lift 3 days a week… Read more »
Mindy1986
Mindy1986
4 years 1 month ago

Wow great list of sources and such a thorough article!! I have been following a schedule (much like the one you recommend) 2 days of HIIT, 2 days of Pilates, 1 day sprinting, 1 day leisure run (optional), and an optional off or yoga day. I’m constantly being asked what I do to get a fab body after having two kids. Sigh…. it so hard to look great sometimes. Especially when you take the time to tell people and they dont apply any of that knowledge to their own lives. You know what that’s like right Mark?

Scott
Scott
4 years 1 month ago

I do eccentric using Exerbotics equipment and don’t get sore. About once per week is enough frequency

katie
4 years 1 month ago

Yes, just reaffirms my hatred towards cardio 🙂

Joe
Joe
4 years 1 month ago

I’m fortunate enough to have the best gym near me that has XForce equipment (only facility in the country I believe) which puts this science into a machine where you don’t need a spotter or anything else to get 40% greater resistance on the negative phase of the exercise. It has made the greatest inroads to my strenth and size in a very short time and I only do it once a week for 30 minutes.

Scott
Scott
4 years 1 month ago

I looked at the XForce website but couldn’t make much out from the photos. Is this equipment motorized? If not that would eliminate any lightning surges affecting them. I personally like Exerbotics since it adjusts to the person’s own strength curve. The downside is the Exerbotic equipment I use is currently down do to lightning getting into the computer.

Personally

Joe
Joe
4 years 1 month ago

XForce is motorized.

Elenor
Elenor
4 years 1 month ago

Scott? Suggest a surge suppressor to the gym? Just like we use on a computer or TV? (Or even better, a “UPS” — an uninterruptable power supply — which ‘cleans the line’; it smooths out the electricity flow to touchy gear…

Scott
Scott
4 years 1 month ago

they actually had one but it didn’t help. The lightning blew out the power company’s transformer too

Jeremy
Jeremy
4 years 1 month ago

This explains a lot! I always wondered why it was so much harder to go up on a pull-up, going down is easy!

Since this is about primal- what is the primal justification for having more strength in eccentric phase of muscle contraction?

Corey
Corey
4 years 1 month ago
This comment embodies a bit that I didn’t understand about this article. In my mind I think “Of course it’s easier to go down from a pull up, it’s just down. That’s where gravity takes you whether you’re holding on to a bar or not.” But then again, I understand the controlled downward motion and get why it seems to be so beneficial (likely because it is often neglected.) I’ve never used a rowing machine, or really any other machine that operates on a horizontal plane, so I’m not really sure I understand the finer details of these machines, but… Read more »
MarkA
MarkA
4 years 1 month ago
Maybe this is a good example: lock hands with someone and pull toward yourself (like in a bicep curl motion). Once your your elbow is fully bent, the other person could easily double their effort while you un-flex without it being that difficult for you. I don’t know if that’s true, but it seems like a good real-world example that doesn’t include the force of gravity. Or think about doing a pull-up and then having someone hang around your waist. There may be no way you could pull yourself up with them on hanging onto you, but you could fairly… Read more »
Adam
Adam
4 years 1 month ago

Wikipedia has the answer (and I do believe it’s correct) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eccentric_training#Physiological_mechanisms

As for the evolutionary biology behind it… I don’t know if there’s a specific reason or activity that would predetermine stronger eccentric movements.. I would have guessed concentric would be stronger from climbing trees or the like..

Fmgd
Fmgd
4 years 1 month ago
See, it’s easy to think that since gravity pulls down, we’d need more “effort” to raise things than to lower them, but that’s not really the case. I think the simplest way to think about this is to consider you’re doing push-ups with most of your movements at constant speed and both phases (lifting and lowering) taking the same time: Resulting Force equals Mass times Acceleration, which means that for a constant movement, that is, a movement with zero acceleration, you’d need zero Resulting Force (which is the sum of all forces acting on a body). Gravity’s force on you… Read more »
Fmgd
Fmgd
4 years 1 month ago

I just realized I had the wrong idea of what and eccentric contraction is, so nevermind the examples on the last paragraph. The rest though is right.

greg grok
greg grok
4 years 1 month ago

I just thought that was gravity 🙂

Wafaa
Wafaa
4 years 1 month ago

I always thought it was basic physics. Going up requires force to create both an upward acceleration to create movement and overcome gravity pulling you down (F=mg+ma).
Going down on the otherhand, gravity is helping you out with the acceleration part, all you need to do is exert enough force to slow things down and not simply free fall (F<mg).

So I don't think it's having more strength or using more force.

Wafaa
Wafaa
4 years 1 month ago

The reason I think this is because I’ve noticed that the only cases where the way down (or back or whatever) is easier are when you’re working against gravity vs. with (or other similar resistance forces like springs, etc.) In every other case, it seems to be as hard (or easy) both ways.

MarkA
MarkA
4 years 1 month ago

If this were true, then the theory would go out the window in zero-gravity, which I don’t think would happen. Gravity is just the force that is pulling the weight away from you (in a downward direction). There are plenty of circumstances where something exerts a force away from you but not down. Like a spring-loaded door, another person, a rambunctious dog on a leash, etc. It should be much easier to slowly release all of these things than to slowly pull them toward you, according to this theory.

Marianne
Marianne
4 years 1 month ago

As a lift-heavy-things newbie I’ve found most of the info/advice out there to be depressingly confusing. But this the most thorough and CLEAR explanation of the topic that I’ve ever read–thank you, Jonathan!

Ron S
Ron S
4 years 1 month ago

For those over 40, this way of working out is the best way.

This method is known as either 4x or 3x mass workout.

Been around a bit.

Read more

http://www.ironmanmagazine.com/iron-man-e-zine-issue-505-new-shock-centric-mass-method/

silentmercy
silentmercy
4 years 1 month ago
This article is spot on with my new training I am researching, new to me that is. I am planning on ditching my HIIT training and going with deadlifts, bench press, squats, weighted chins, overhead press, and some weighted walking lunges. 3x a week with a day of rest between, and 1 sprint session on off day. I have been making progress with HIIT, but if lifting heavy things is the answer and HIIT is very cardio in nature, is it really wise to mix the two. The extra energy expended on jumping from station to station with little rest… Read more »
Kirk
Kirk
4 years 1 month ago

The plan you’re looking at moving to is almost spot on with Medhi’s Stronglifts 5×5… maybe take a look at that and get an idea of the level of training you want to do – Medhi is quite blunt in his approach to everything, but the principles behind what he walks and talks are sound and he advocates proper form and the ability to lift a weight over trying to lift with your ego, at least.

Lance
Lance
4 years 1 month ago

Just do StrongLifts, since that’s basically what you’re aiming for anyway.

Run the basic plan 2-3 times and graduate to the fun stuff like Mad Cow. Where you go from doing heavy weight to pushing your max output every week.

I’ve been doing it for a while and absolutely love it. Heavy weights are a hell of a lot more fun than running. Especially when you can lift over double your body weight.

Rev. Dave Deppisch
4 years 1 month ago

I do HIIT sprinting 3x each week which enabled me to drop 15 lbs in a short time– I don’t have weights, so i do bodyweight training a couple days during the week–

I am gaining muscle mass but no bulk per se– stronger and longer.

I use some of the exercises I found on youtube for tacfit.

Craig
Craig
4 years 1 month ago

The value of eccentric or negative emphasized training seems pretty well established. The trick seems to be in doing it safely.

Please note that if you push up a weight or your body bilaterally, and then unload one limb, you will often get a sudden shift in the loading on core and supporting muscles (depending on the nature of the exercise). That does create an opportunity for injuries in those core and supporting muscles.

Dennis Blair
4 years 1 month ago

Thanks for the article I myself am a trainer and it is one of the biggest concerns of women that they would look like men and I keep on explaining but after reading this I think I can ask them to read this article for their satisfaction.

Craig
Craig
4 years 1 month ago

Great article and one that I can easily incorporate into what I am already doing. This reminds me of a guy at the gym. In my mind I used to call him “The Jiggler”. He would work-out on a stair stepper for long periods but only move up and down about an inch or two, but very quickly (jiggle). I heard him bragging in the locker room that he did this for an hour three times a week. I suspected it was inefficient (his results weren’t that great) and now I know why.

WJPurifoy
WJPurifoy
4 years 1 month ago

I’m wondering if this is something Grok would have done. If he picked up a basket of tubers and acorns and it required him to use both hands to get it off the ground, wouldn’t he use both hands to set it down back at camp? It seems like a basic instinct to protect oneself from injury, you use as much power to lower as it took to lift.

Anyway, will doing this style of lowering give me more total strength than I had before, or will it just produce ‘show muscles’?

MarkA
MarkA
4 years 1 month ago
Imagine holding a basket and having someone else load it with tubers and acorns. It gets to the point where it is too heavy to hold, so you slowly lower it to the ground. Then you decide to move it somewhere else and you can’t pick it back up without help. But once you have it up off the ground, it’s not that hard to keep it there and lower it again to a new spot. I’d imagine it’s the muscles way of controlling it’s own safety. You shouldn’t be able to lift anything heavier than you can safely lower,… Read more »
Adam
Adam
4 years 1 month ago

Ooh, you just answered the question from page 1. Great work 🙂

As for the “show muscles” thing, that’s a definite no. These will be real muscles, because you’ll be lowering even heavier than you can lift (or focusing on slow lowering instead of dropping weights, either way is positive). They aren’t the same muscles used to LIFT yourself into a pull-up, but you’ll definitely get stronger at the lowering part. And I think your muscle fiber type will become more type II as mentioned, which will help with fat loss as well as further size/strength gains.

steffo
steffo
4 years 1 month ago

fascinating

Debi
Debi
4 years 1 month ago

Way over my head. Sorry!

TokyoJarrett
4 years 1 month ago

This post was HUGE! Thanks for this, Mark and Jonathan. I know too many friends and relatives who do chronic cardio that can benefit immensely from this post. Including the bit on lifting heavy not making people bulky was a great idea, too 🙂

Gene
Gene
4 years 1 month ago

I understand there are lots of clever ways to apply this principle without a spotter (like some of the ideas that Mark mentioned), but is there home work-out equipment that facilitates this?

Isaac Warbrick
4 years 1 month ago

Good to hear the ‘size principle’ applied to health and weight loss for once.
The students I teach, and most sport scientists for that matter, only think about muscle fiber recruitment in regards to high-performance training, while forgetting it’s relevance to health and weight loss.
I’ve just started a post-doctoral study looking at this exact thing. Looking forward to supporting the principles discussed in this post. Good work!

PhilmontScott
PhilmontScott
4 years 1 month ago

My thought when I read this was various arm exercise machines that allow you to also use your legs to get it into position. Lift with your legs, and then lower with both of your arms.

Kevin Jorgensen
4 years 1 month ago
I did the workout from his book yesterday. Is awesome that it is short and intense, but I felt like I was trying to prevent a boulder from crushing me at the end of each ‘set.’ I was afraid that I’d be too sore to move, but that hasn’t been the case as of 24 hours (my muscles are still taxed, and no way I could do this routine again any time soon). Will see if DOMS is killer tomorrow, but thus far I’ve enjoyed the test run. I would recommend not jumping into it full steam if you’re not… Read more »
Mike
Mike
4 years 1 month ago

I’m not really clear on how to train like this in practice. I don’t usually have access to machines.

To some of the examples: I can do a full pushup or chinup. So reducing the work of the lifting phase (with knees or legs), just so that it’s realatively easier than the lowering phase doesn’t make the lowering phase any harder than it was before when I just did the full motion unassisted.

I guess I could load a backpack full of weights that would prevent me from lifting the chinup without help and lowering with it.

Kevin Jorgensen
4 years 1 month ago

Reducing the weight (knees/legs) is for beginners. Otherwise regular pushup/chinup. The slow descent/deep pause is how it’s made more difficult.

Weighted vests combined with the slow drop is what you’d have to do if the regular body weight lifts are too easy.

greg grok
greg grok
4 years 1 month ago

Increase the leverage of push ups, eg feet up on something. Try to progress onto 1 arm push ups. Or keep 1 leg up in the air on your push or put both feet on a wall about a foot up (using the static/core to keep your feet on the wall) and do push ups that way. For pull ups have 1 arm out to the side as far as possible or hook a towel wound the bar and hold on to the towel so your hand is lower than pull up bar.

greg grok
greg grok
4 years 1 month ago

i meant ”hook a towel over the bar”

greg grok
greg grok
4 years 1 month ago

for any of the unilateral work, such as 1 arm out to the side pull ups or push ups, make sure you do same reps on each side so start with your weaker side and once done do the same reps with your stronger to help balance strength.

Nicole
Nicole
4 years 1 month ago
This article is perfectly timed! Tomorrow is my Lift Heavy Things Day and it is supposed to rain tomorrow (I hope it does, we need it) so I am stuck in the gym for the better part of my workout. I am going to try this on every machine I can get my hands on! I say that now, we’ll see how my muscles react after the leg and military press machines. I am so excited to hit the gym, now! Plus, this explains why after doing reverse pull-ups for maybe a week, I was strong enough to do true… Read more »
Matt
Matt
4 years 1 month ago
It seems like when I’m super sore from doing a heavy workout (including negatives) I don’t sleep as well, and so I don’t recover as well. I wonder what data there might be on how super soreness effects cortisol levels and how it also might impact rest/sleep effectiveness. For me, it seems like my best workouts are those that leave me just slightly sore the next day and just slightly stiff the following day. Any more intensity and I just drag ass through the rest of the week. Maybe I’m short-changing myself, but I seem to have good gains if… Read more »
Mr. Poo
4 years 1 month ago
I felt the soreness when I first started lifting heavy things. Now that I have been doing this for quite a while even the next day I still feel ok. I also think I have plateaued on my lifting. I always take protein afterwards and I’m following the paleo diet, but I need to find a way to continue gaining muscle. I’m also lifting the max of the machine for the chest press and the sit dip so I have to add extra weight on it. For the pulldown, I’m at 75% of the machine weight but I can’t seem… Read more »
Mark Cruden
Mark Cruden
4 years 1 month ago

Just finished “Body by Science”. Great book which explains in great detail why this works. Great post. Thanks.

Isa
Isa
4 years 1 month ago

Hi Mark,what do you think about “slow burn fitness revolution” by Hahn and Eades? Drs. Eades explain that a slow speed workout produces more greater strength gains,and above all, turns the body into a powerful fat burning machine.Thank you for all, I’m from Italy and there’s not a good site like yours here.

Tracy
Tracy
4 years 1 month ago

Only one person has mentioned how this would apply to Grok. For me I will bear this in mind when lifting logs, heavy shopping, working in the garden and lifting boxes in the office. Am I the only one who doesn’t go to the gym?!

Isa
Isa
4 years 1 month ago

no, you’re not the only 😉

Bjorn
Bjorn
4 years 1 month ago

Great post! More of this!

Stevemid
Stevemid
4 years 1 month ago

If you have kids, try this:

Do a push-up, then shout ‘now’ for them to jump on your back for the lowering part of the push-up (then ‘off!’).

Repeat.

To increase difficulty over time, feed the children grains.

Elenor
Elenor
4 years 1 month ago

Only feed someone ELSE’S kids grains! Bring in the neighbor’s kids! Have your kids do their own pushups next to you (without riders…){wink}

PrimalXavy
PrimalXavy
4 years 1 month ago

Basically controlling your tempo will make you work harder. For example using a cadence of 2-1-2, means a pushup will take 2 seconds to lower, pausing at the bottom for 1 second, and pushing back up for 2 seconds. This controlled workout make it a lot harder to kick out 15 reps at that pace then to do 30 reps on a faster pace. This is the principle you usually find in old school body exercise books.

drea
drea
4 years 1 month ago

This must be why it’s so easy to go down in a pistol but going UP is a whole ‘nother story…

Rachel
Rachel
4 years 1 month ago

“Because these activities involve our large leg muscles.”

You know, this probably explains why I know so many guys in the 280 lbs. + range who have really fantastic looking legs. They are the heavy object they’re lifting.

The same probably goes for me too. I just don’t have the good-legs gene to help me along.

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