What is the difference between concentric, eccentric and isometric exercise?

Lady running on a track

Let's dive into the different movements of exercise to improve your running

There are various ways to do a particular exercise - push, pull, raise, lower, explode, slow down; the list goes on! On top of that, you can break down each exercise into its different parts: concentric, eccentric and isometric.

Each phase has its benefits and challenges, which we will dive into now!

What are concentric movements?

Concentric movements occur when your muscle fibres shorten. Think "concentric" and "contract." Another easy way to think about it is that you're generally competing against gravity during this part of the exercise.

Examples of concentric movements include the standing of a squat, the pushing up of the calf raise and the pressing up of the bench press.

What are the benefits of concentric movements?

I find isolating concentric movements the most challenging part of the exercise. Imagine trying to isolate the standing component of the squat - how would you get there in the first place?

There are a few reasons to focus on concentric movements:

  1. Decreased muscle soreness - this is because muscle damage occurs primarily within eccentric training
  2. Perfecting your form - isolating this movement allows you to focus on it
  3. Increasing fast-twitch muscles - to improve power and sprinting speed

What are eccentric movements?

Unlike muscle contractions, eccentric exercises focus on increasing muscle length. This exercise component focuses on building muscle mass and increasing strength as it results in the most muscle damage (not nasty, but necessary for growth). Eccentric exercises are the leading player in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Examples include slowly going down in a squat or calf raise (counts of three) with a regular push up (concentric movement) or lowering the bar to your chest in the bench press.

What are the benefits of eccentric training?

Commonly referred to as "negative training", isolating eccentric movements is used in strength and conditioning to improve strength and size. Have you ever done squats where you do down in counts of three and push up on a count of one (down, two, three, up and down, two three, up...).

What are isometric movements?

Unlike concentric or eccentric movements, there is no movement in isometric exercises. Instead, we are dealing with a static hold.

Examples include wall sits, pausing at the bottom of an exercise between your eccentric and concentric movements, and holding a plank.

What are the benefits of isometric movements?

Because you're not moving, isometric exercises are fantastic at improving strength without an increase in size.

Other benefits include:

  1. Increased balance - in part because of benefit number 2
  2. Core strength - you generally are keeping your core fully engaged to remain steady
  3. Improved posture

Why do you need concentric, eccentric and isometric movements in your program?

All three movements are essential in training programs. There are likely times when you will want to focus on either one; however, it will provide you with a well-rounded program incorporating all three components.

Make sure you chat to your coach, exercise physiologist, physiotherapist or podiatrist for more.

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About the author:

Ben Lindsay is the Managing Director and engineer behind the Solushin medical device. A former national medalist swimmer, Ben aspires to learn from physicians, physiotherapists and podiatrists so he can develop tools to improve the quality of care for their patients.

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