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We’d all like to get more efficient with our training, ensuring we get maximum returns on the time we put in.

One factor many athletes may be neglecting is the importance of eccentric muscle contractions (involving a lengthening of the muscle) for strength and size gains. The significance of these contractions has been known for some time, but new research suggests it’s the most effective type of muscle contraction.

In fact, according to the researchers, the increase in bicep strength that comes from doing a dumbbell curl may not come from the lifting phase of the movement at all, but rather the lowering phase.

"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," Professor Ken Nosaka, who worked on the study, said.

"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.”

What Did The Researchers Do?

The study got three groups of people to perform different variations of dumbbell curls twice a week over five weeks.

One of the groups only lowered the dumbbell, producing an eccentric muscle contraction. The second group only lifted the weight, producing a concentric muscle contraction, and the third group did both to produce eccentric and concentric muscle contractions.

All three groups improved their concentric contractions, although this was the only improvement achieved by the concentric-only participants.

The other two groups also had big improvements in their eccentric strength and their isometric strength. But despite the eccentric group only performing half the number of reps as the eccentric-concentric group, the improvements were very similar.

And the hypertrophy benefits of the eccentric group were actually more significant, achieving a 7.2% greater thickness compared to 5.4% in the eccentric-concentric group.

"Understanding the benefits of eccentric-focused training can allow people to spend their time exercising more efficiently," Professor Nosaka said.

To put this knowledge into practice and produce greater eccentric contractions, Professor Nosaka recommends using two hands to lift a dumbbell and then using one to lower it on exercises like bicep curls, overhead extensions and shoulder presses.

And he says the same technique can be used with your legs on machines for exercises like leg extensions, hamstring curls and calf raises.

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