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This one exercise is the key to gain muscle and avoid injury, according to sports medicine orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ian Rice

By Dr. Ian Rice

Schedule with Dr. Rice

As many individuals commit to a healthier lifestyle and improved physique in the new year, weight resistance training is often a component of the regimen.  Weight training has numerous benefits including gains in muscle mass and strength, increased metabolism for burning calories around the clock, and increased bone mass to avoid problems like osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Unfortunately, weight training can also result in significant injuries such as biceps, Achilles, and hamstring tears, among other injuries commonly seen in the orthopedic office.  Some patients are unaware there is any risk of these injuries with weight training, and others assume it is an unavoidable risk inherent in reaching their fitness goals.  Neither perspective is accurate.

Thankfully, there is one exercise that has been proven to increase strength and reduce the risk of tendon rupture injuries: eccentric exercise, often referred to in weight-lifting parlance as “negatives.”

For any exercise, there are two phases: concentric, or shortening, phase of muscle contraction; and eccentric, or lengthening phase of contraction.  For instance, with heel rises to strengthen the calf muscles and Achilles tendon, the concentric phase starts with the heels at their lowest point, and finishes with the heels at the highest point (the heels furthest from the floor).  The eccentric phase in this case is the lowering phase, controlling the force of body weight and gravity bringing the heel from the peak height back down to the floor.

Another example is bicep curls, or arm curls.  The concentric phase begins with the elbow extended and the dumbbell near your waist or hip, at the low point, and finishes with the elbow flexed or maximally bent and the dumbbell finishing near your shoulder.  The eccentric phase involves the bicep muscle firing as it lengthens and controls the weight as it is lowered from the shoulder back down to the waist level.

These eccentric exercises, or negatives, are best performed with a slow, gradual arc of motion over at least a three-count (one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand), or as slow as a ten-count.  Generally the amount of weight, or resistance, is lower than you would perform with a traditional concentric contraction.  For instance, if you normally perform bicep curls with 30lb dumbbells, 25lb may suffice for negatives.

Not only will eccentric exercises help develop strength and muscle better than concentric exercise alone, but research evidence suggests they are the best defense against tendon rupture, tendonitis, and other injuries.  While your entire weight-lifting regimen could comprise eccentric exercises, another reasonable compromise is to combine a blended approach: 2 or 3 sets of concentric exercises, 1 or 2 sets of eccentric exercises, depending on your goals.

Make 2022 your fittest year, and do it the right way with eccentric exercise, so 2022 isn’t the year of post-surgical rehab.

Schedule with Dr. Rice

If an injury does occur, Beacon Orthopaedics is here to help. You can schedule an appointment with Dr. Ian Rice, sports medicine physician, by calling (513) 354-3700 or scheduling by clicking the link above or here.