Eccentric Coaching Will Make You Stronger. However what’s it?

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Concentric exercises relating to positive resistance to force, for example when pulling up during a pull-up or when pushing up during a push-up. Either way, the major muscles are always shortened (contracted). Freak muscle spasms involve resistance to negative forces, such as lowering while pulling up or squeezing up. During these movements, muscle fibers lengthen while contracting to maintain control.

Climbing is mostly a concentric movement, but we also have to lower ourselves from time to time; such as when climbing down to rest or testing hold while trying to solve a confusing bottom line. It is easy to predict that we should focus primarily on training concentric movements, as this is the main requirement in climbing, especially since almost any concentric exercise (such as pulling beam) also has an eccentric movement as part of the deal. All studies conclude that increased strength is the result of exercises that combine both types of movement. However, there are also strong additional advantages to focusing on eccentric movements over time as part of an overall strength training campaign.

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Eccentric training can be used to build strength when climbing in three main ways:

First is “Forced rep,” where you continue to do the negative part of the move after you can’t do the positive part anymore. An example is performing a pull-up to failure, then using a step or foothold to allow you to do more “negatives,” as you descend and fail again. This allows you to expand the set further into the failure zone. Most studies conclude that forced sets are good for strength training and that you’re better off doing fewer sets with required reps than more sets without. Weightlifting guidelines for intermediate and low-level climbers can (after warm-up) do 3 or 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps plus 2 or 3 tie-ups, instead of the 5 or 6 sets that not required to perform. Higher level climbers should follow the pyramid structure (sets of 10, 6, 4, 6, 10). Again, each round should end with 2 or 3 required reps.

Second way that eccentric training can be used to do “pure negation” where you only do the wacky part of a movement. The advantage here is that you can train with much higher weights than exercises that combine concentric and eccentric movements. If used strategically, tones have a great system shock effect and can help kickstart your strength training. One way pure negatives can work for climbers is as part of a progressive plan to perform a one-handed pull-up. Even if you can’t do a one-handed pull-up, you can still lower with one hand in slow control and if so, you’re ready to go!

Train three times a week, using the pyramid structure given earlier, and begin your program by performing an off-center-only motion. To increase resistance, you’ll need a belt and should work out until you can handle 5 pounds for 10 sets, 10 pounds for 6 sets, and 15 pounds for 4 sets. Once these benefits are achieved, you can add static locking to these sets (for example, hold still for two or three seconds in full lock mode, at 90 degrees, and at 180 degrees). Then, once you can hold the locks in negative sets for four or five seconds (with the weight belt), switch to assisted focus mode where you use your free arm to get help. Start with a knotted rope, keep it very low and then move on to placing the other hand on the biceps. Finally, you can do your first one-arm pull — all thanks to those negatives!

The third way that the eccentric movements suitable for a training program are in the form of plyometric exercises. These movements involve resistance to negative forces at high speeds, such as when dropping down during the “touch” exercise on the field board. (Touch exercise is performed by hanging with both hands from the low rung, pulling up quickly, latching the high rung, releasing the body and then repeating, alternating from arm to arm.) Sports such as sprinting and gymnastics have concluded that they are a primary method of increasing explosive strength.

While there is clearly a concentric component to the plyometric exercise, the eccentric movement is understood to do most of the work of value. The forces involved in “dropping” are obviously enormous, as you try to absorb the weight of the body falling under the influence of gravity. Remember that you can increase the intensity of plyometric exercises such as touch in two ways. One is to go up and down from a higher ladder, and the other is to try to take the steps faster. If we had the power to translate research from other sports, there would be more benefits to trying to do the plyometrics faster than doing the higher ladder exercises.

The real goal of a plyometric exercise is to reduce the time it takes to convert a negative force into a positive force (known as the “amortization period”). A good guide to touch training for beginners is to do 3 sets of 10. More advanced climbers can use the pyramid structure outlined above — for example, going up the steps for lower reps, but take your stopwatch out and try to go faster (instead of higher) each session.

Obviously there are other ways to use off-centre training for rock climbing, but hopefully this gives you a few ideas to bring to the gym.

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This article appeared in Ice and ice No. 189 (October 2010).


Neil Gresham has been training and coaching for two decades. In 2001, he went up for the second time Equilibrium (E10 7a / 5.14X) on the grindstone in the Peak District, and was established last year Freakshow (8c/5.14b) in Kilnsey, also in the UK On 13 October 2016 he made his first ascent of Sabotage—An 8c + (5.14c) expands to Carnivores (8b/5.13 days) at Malham Cave, North Yorkshire, England. Sabotage was Gresham’s first grade climb.

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