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BACK TO MY ROOTS Part 1 – Train all contraction types

Part 1 – Train all contraction types 

I’m a strength and conditioning coach by trade. My specialty has always been training athletes. Those who have followed me since the beginning of my career (20 years ago) know this.

Those who have read my book “Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods”, which was referred by a few high-level coaches as the best athletic training book of all time, know this.

But most of you don’t know it.

See, about 10 years ago I was branded as a “body composition/hypertrophy” expert. With a slant toward performance, but still focused on improving body composition. So, all of you who have been introduced to my work fairly recently do see me more as a body comp guy. And that’s not who I really am.

Heck, I’m partly responsible for that shift since I did play into it: I trained pro bodybuilders and figure competitors, national level bodybuilders as well as many average Joes who just wanted to get leaner and more muscular. And I obviously wrote about the tools I used with them.

You can only go away from your true passion for so long.

Which is why I have started working with high-level athletes again, as well as training like an athlete myself (even though I’m now old and quasi-handicapped). This return to my roots has motivated me to explain to you the principles that were the cornerstone of my methods when I was training athletes full time.

My first principle is that an athlete needs to be strong in the three major types of contractions:

Concentric: producing force while the muscle is shortening (what we often call “lifting”)
Eccentric: producing force while the muscle is lengthening (resisting, lowering, yielding)
Isometric: producing force while the muscle stays the same length (no movement)

I want to note that some might think that I took that from Cal Dietz Triphasic Training. I want to note that his book was written in 2012 and my book that details my use of eccentric, isometric and concentric training was written in 2006, and that I had been working that way for many years prior to that.

I’m also different in that I train all three types of contractions in each phase while Cal has phases focusing on each type.  Depending on the phase, I will use various methods so that I can emphasize different applications of these contraction types.

I see three main applications for each contraction type:

  • Longer duration/lower intensity: sets lasting 30-60 seconds to both develop muscle and tendons but also to improve the capacity of the neuromuscular system to maintain a high level of force production for a fairly long duration.
  • High force/shorter duration: sets lasting 6-20 seconds with the aim of developing maximum strength in the trained contraction type.
  • High speed/very short duration: sets with reps where the muscles produce force for an extremely short duration but with a very rapid rise in force production (extreme rate of force development).

So, we have the following:

1. CONCENTRIC

Longer duration

“Regular” sets with a “normal” tempo (2-3 seconds eccentric, 1-2 seconds concentric)
Hypertrophy zone (40-70 seconds under tension per set) 10-12 reps/set
Functional hypertrophy zone (30-40 seconds under tension per set) 6-8 reps/set

Advanced
Rest/Pause
Pre-fatigue
Post-fatigue
Mechanical drop sets

Higher force

“Regular” sets with a “normal” tempo
Absolute strength zone (10-20 seconds under load) 3-5 reps/set
Relative strength zone (2-9 seconds under load) 1-3 reps/set

Advanced
Clusters
Wave loading (3/2/1)
Pure concentric (lifting from pins)
Partial lifts
Lifts with added chains

Higher speed
Regular lifts with maximum speed
Speed-strength sets (40-60% of maximum for 3-5 explosive reps)
Strength-speed sets (60-70% of maximum for 2-3 explosive reps)

Olympic lifts
Power versions of the Olympic lifts mostly from hang or blocks (70-90% of maximum for sets of 1-5 reps)

 Jump and throws
For maximum explosion, 3-5 reps per set

2. ECCENTRIC

Longer duration

Regular lifting with slow eccentric tempo (6-10 seconds) and normal concentric
Hypertrophy zone (40-70 seconds under load) sets of 5-8 reps
Functional hypertrophy zone (30-40 seconds under load) sets of 3-5 reps

Advanced
2/1 technique (4-6 reps per limb with 5 seconds eccentric)

(FIRST PORTION) 

Higher force

Eccentric overload (90-110% of concentric max) with slowest eccentric possible (6-10 seconds per rep) for 1-3 reps (weight releasers, partner assisted, manual overload)

Pure eccentric: lowering the bar down to safety pins (100-120% of max concentric) as slowly as possible

Regular lifting with added band resistance (sets of 1-3 reps)

Higher speed

Absorption drills (depth landings, drop and catch, catching medicine balls)
Advanced
Shock method: depth jumps, depth push-ups

Overspeed eccentrics: lifting with added band resistance (high band, low bar weight) with very fast eccentric and quick turnaround

3. ISOMETRIC

Longer duration

Regular lifting with isometric holds during the set
Intra-rep hold: holding the position of highest tension (normally mid-range) for 3-8 seconds per rep
Intra-set hold: holding the position of highest tension at the beginning or end of the set for 15+ seconds

Multi holds: Including several holds in the set (or in the rep)

Yielding isometric: holding the position of highest tension for 40-70 seconds

Loaded stretching: holding the position where the target muscle is stretched for sets of 40-70 seconds

Higher force

Overcoming isometrics(pushing or pulling against pins) just above or below the sticking point for 6-9 seconds.

Functional isometrics: Partial movement followed by isometric. Lift a supramax weight for 2-3” and then hold the position for 6-9 seconds. Work up to the heaviest you can handle for that time. Pick a position just above or just below your weak point.

Higher « speed »

Drop and catch method : dropping a weight and catching it. As soon as you catch it try to stop it abruptly and hold it a second.

WHY SHOULD YOU TRAIN ALL CONTRACTION TYPES?

While there is some transfer from getting strong in one type of contraction to the others; it is not 100%. The reason is that the different contraction types have different motor unit recruitment strategies.

A few years back, I was really into lifting from the bottom position of a lift, starting from pins. Eventually I worked up to 425 on the bench press from pins, with the bar starting less than 1” from the chest (so pretty much full range of motion).

I didn’t do any regular bench pressing during that time. But I was fully expecting hitting at least 425lbs because lifting from the bottom, from pins, is harder due to the lack of help from the stretch reflex.

Well, when I tested my bench press, I failed at 365! A weight I would normally do multiple reps with.

See I “detrained” the eccentric phase of the lift and more importantly the transition between lowering and lifting (where there is the greatest force production) and even though my muscles were stronger, my lifting wasn’t.

This is a good illustration that training one type of contraction will not necessarily lead to an increase in strength in the other modes of action.

But why is that important?

Because if you are an athlete you need to be strong and efficient in all three modes of action, and the fact is that athletes have a concentric strength that is way out of balance with their isometric and eccentric strength.

This not only decreases performance but also increases the risk of injuries.

Let’s look at performance first.

You are an athlete, you want to be fast and agile.

We understand the role of concentric strength and power: it propels your body up or laterally. And the more force you can apply in that action, the faster you move.

But it is more complex than that.

Look at the following image:

  1. Absorption phase: your muscles must absorb the force produced by your body weight and downward force application. If this phase is inefficient the length and duration of the absorption phase is longer, you do not store potential energy as well which decreases the strength of the next concentric/propulsion phase and you can more easily get out of position.
  2. Braking phase: this is where you stop the downward/lateral movement of the body to be able to reverse direction efficiently. This is also where the kinetic energy from the absorption phase becomes potential energy that can be used to project yourself with more force. If you are weak in this action, there will be a slight delay between ground contact and projection, making you slower.
  3. Transition/Turnaround: in this phase you change direction. The better you are at storing kinetic energy as potential energy and the more efficient your stretch reflex is, the more power you will have.
  4. Projection phase: this is where you use your concentric strength, stored potential energy and stretch reflex to project your body.

If you are weak eccentrically, phase 1 will be inefficient… you will need a longer path to decelerate, which takes more time and can get you out of an optimal position to project yourself.

If you are weak isometrically, phase 2 will be inefficient, giving you a slight delay between ground contact and projection. Making you less explosive. It can also decrease the storage of potential energy: the more rigidity you have in that phase, the more potential energy you will store and the more the stretch reflex will get activated.

Phase 3 is dependent equally on isometric and concentric strength, as well as the efficacy of the stretch reflex. Weakness in either one of these three will greatly decrease how efficient your transition is. An inefficient transition leads to much less explosiveness.

Finally phase 4 is dependent mostly on concentric strength and power. Lack of concentric strength and the capacity to produce it quickly will result in a slower movement.

As you can see, if you want to run fast and be agile you need to be strong in all modes of contraction.

That’s why as a coach I train all 3 types of actions in all phases. And because they all have a different recruitment pattern if you don’t train one for 1-2 phases, you will detrain it.

-CT

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…