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Principles Over Methods: The Role and Importance of Concentric Action Training

Concentric Action Training

The concentric component of a lift is officially called the miometric action, but more simply (and how I’ll refer to it), as the overcoming portion of the lift. It’s the most sport specific muscle action, as ‘overcoming’ a resistance is the basis of all sporting actions and everyday activities.

Concentric Action Training for Strength Gains

Concentric training is especially important for those athletes that are required to apply high levels of force through the ground – powerlifters, rugby players, olympic weightlifters, sprinters, and most field sport athletes. The more force that the athlete can apply through the  ground… the more powerful they become.Although we established in an earlier blog that it is the eccentric portion that provides the most bang for buck, developing your maximal strength would be impossible without concentric muscle action. For example, if an athlete were only to focus on eccentric training, their ability to develop ‘overcoming’ or concentric strength would be 2-3 times slower/lower than if both were used concurrently, according to research by Higby, Hortobagyi and their colleagues in 1996.

It is also believed that the neural mechanics governing concentric and eccentric muscle actions are different. The way the CNS regulates the action, and also during preparation, suggests that the motor planning processes are different, and thus, athletes still need to practice the concentric portion to make strength gains transferable and functional.

Simply put, because most sports, including the lifting events of powerlifting and olympic weightlifting involve overcoming work, concentric training is vitally important.

Concentric Action Training as a Stimulus for Muscle Growth

Although it has been well established that eccentric training is the best way to stimulate muscle growth due to its significant contribution to micro-trauma, the concentric portion in research has shown to increase muscle mass (cross-sectional area) too. Specifically, eccentric and concentric training has been shown to be somewhat site specific. Eccentric training stimulates primarily the ends of the muscle fibres (proximal and distal), while concentric training develops the centre of the belly.

How to Maximise the Concentric Muscle Action

The underlying premise for making the concentric portion of the lift the most effective is to, irrespective of the load used, moved it as quickly as possible. This is the most effective way of increasing intramuscular tension during the concentric phase.

If we refer back to a very simple formula:

F=ma (force equals mass times acceleration).

  • If the speed of the bar remains the same and the weight increases, so does force.
  • If the weight of the bar remains the same, but the speed of the bar increases, so does force.
  • If both mass and acceleration increase a little, so does force.

As you can see, there are essentially three ways to become more powerful.

  1. Lift heavy weights, ‘relatively’ slowly (high mass component)
  2. Lift light weights, ‘relatively’ fast (high acceleration component)
  3. Lift moderate weights with moderate speed (combination)

There is one caveat to this, if you are moving light loads fast, the exercise selection becomes vitally important. Instead of trying to do bench press quickly, perhaps try a bench throw, or even a medball chest toss. These open chain movements will afford the joint-muscle complex the opportunity to lock out under no load (as the implement has left your hands by this stage). The drawback of doing high speed bench presses under load is that the body has to decelerate the bar as you progress toward lock out, otherwise you have risk of hyperextending the elbow.

But don’t lose sight of the simple goal – concentric training should always be instructed to be ‘move the weight as quick as possible.’