Switch the Focus Phase of Your Lifts for Better Results

Trevor Thieme C.S.C.S.
·2 mins read

From Men's Health

This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

You don’t have to be a kinesiologist to know that the body thrives on change. Try the same routine for months on end, and you will plateau. Switch things up every couple of months, and your body will continue to adapt and grow. But that doesn’t mean you have to regularly swap out all of the exercises in your program for new ones. Small changes—altering your grip, stance, or rest periods, for example—are often all it takes to hit the refresh button on a stale routine.

Another option: Emphasize a different part of your lifts.

Every lift has at least two distinct phases, which are defined by the type of muscle action involved. The concentric phase is when you shorten (i.e., contract) the muscle. The eccentric phase is when you lengthen the muscle. And if you hold a contraction (e.g., pause halfway through each rep in the biceps curl), you add an isometric phase to the exercise.

Most guys focus on the concentric phase—pulling your chest to the bar in the chinup, lifting the dumbbell up for a barbell curl, or driving up from the bottom of the squat, for example. But research shows that emphasizing the eccentric phase—which typically involves lowering the load—can increase the demand on a muscle, and enhance your gains as a result. Ditto for exercises that involve an isometric muscle action, which increases the muscle’s time under tension.

Bottom line: Each phase of a lift represents a unique opportunity to stimulate your muscles for increases in strength and growth. If you want to optimize yours, you’ll emphasize all three phases in your training program, regularly changing the principle you target in various exercises.

Your move: If you don’t already, start spending more time in the eccentric phase of your lifts. That’s often as simple as taking as long (or longer) to lower the weight as you do to lift it. With isolation moves like the biceps curl, you can also challenge yourself in your last rep of your last set by seeing how long you can resist gravity on the way down. And if you’re feeling particularly strong, throw a pause or two (or three, in the case of the triple-stop push-up) into each rep, or make the isometric muscle action the focus of the exercise, as you do during the plank.

By regularly varying your lifting tempo, you’ll regularly change the challenge to your muscles—and that is what hits the accelerator on results.

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