Still lifting weights? Why lowering weights is the key to boosting muscle strength
A team of researchers from Australia’s Edith Cowan University (ECU) demonstrated that lowering weights rather than lifting them may be a more efficient way to increase muscle mass. The study may allow time-poor fitness enthusiasts to cut their weightlifting routine in half and still see the same muscle-building results.
In collaboration with researchers from Niigata University and Nishi Kyushu University in Japan and Brazil’s Londrina State University, the team at ECU recruited three groups of people to perform different types of dumbbell curls twice a week for five weeks.
One group performed both concentric (lifting weights) and eccentric contractions (lowering weights). Another focused exclusively on concentric contractions, and the third group performed only eccentric contractions. An inactive group served as a control group.
Lowering weights is better than lifting them
Results showed that those who only lowered the weights saw the same muscle improvements as participants who both raised and lowered the weights – despite doing just half the number of reps. Even more interesting is that the eccentric-only group exhibited greater increases in muscle thickness, 7.2% compared to 5.4% seen in the concentric-eccentric group.
The ECU’s Professor Ken Nosaka explains that these findings show that focusing on “eccentric” muscle contractions, where activated muscles lengthen, is more important when it comes to increasing the strength and size of one’s muscles, as opposed to the volume.
“We already know only one eccentric muscle contraction a day can increase muscle strength if it is performed five days a week — even if it’s only three seconds a day — but concentric (lifting a weight) or isometric muscle contraction (holding a weight) does not provide such an effect,” said study author Professor Ken Nosaka.
“This latest study shows we can be far more efficient in the time we spend exercising and still see significant results by focusing on eccentric muscle contractions. In the case of a dumbbell curl, many people may believe the lifting action provides the most benefit or at least some benefit, but we found concentric muscle contractions contributed little to the training effects.”
How to put this knowledge to use in the gym?
Prof. Nosaka recommends using two hands during the concentric (lifting weights) phase before using one arm for the eccentric phase (lowering weights) when performing:
- Bicep curls
- Overhead extension
- Front raise
- Shoulder press
While using leg weight machines, Prof. Nosaka recommends using the same concentric/eccentric technique when performing:
- Knee extensions
- Leg curls
- Calf raises
Professor Nosaka also offers a few examples of what this might look like in the home using body weight for resistance. You could sit down slowly in a chair from a half-squatting position or slowly lower yourself into a lunge.
“With the small amount of daily exercise needed to see results, people don’t necessarily even have to go to the gym — they can incorporate eccentric exercise into their everyday routine,” says professor Nosaka.
While exercising, feel that the contracting muscles are gradually stretched from the start to the end of the range of motion. After each eccentric muscle contraction, minimize the effort to go back to the starting position (i.e., concentric muscle contraction).
Their study is published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.
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