To Build More Power Train Your Antagonists Eccentrically

Plyos, Olympic Lifts, and Dynamic Efforts are not the Only Ways to Increase Speed and Power

Baseball Pitcher

Strength coaches around the world prescribe plyometrics and Olympic lifts to increase force production – to build speed and power. Powerlifters around the world utilize dynamic effort lifts – box squats, speed deads, board presses – to increase their speed and power.

We can all learn A LOT from those methods, but there is one constituent of force development that the above methods don’t take into account. Consider reversal and/or starting strength, acceleration, and stretch reflex actions of the muscles that act as the antagonists to the primary sports movement.


Movement Specific Training

Wouldn’t you agree that the rate of force development is movement specific? Doesn’t force development involve a combination of the following skills?

  • neural familiarity
  • maximal strength
  • coordination
  • reaction time
  • flexibility

Some of those skills are inherently genetic, while the others can be trained. Coordination and reaction time are somewhat genetic – you’re either born coordinated or you’re not – you either react on the drop of a dime or you don’t – those qualities can improve with training, but only up to a certain genetic threshold. You should not really dedicate much time to training those skills, because your return on time invested will be much higher when you train your most trainable skills.

Flexibility will come with any moderate stretching routine – being overly flexible can actually hinder performance in most sports. Strength and the neural pathways are two of the most trainable qualities in any athlete. Coaches and athletes should focus the majority of their time in the weight room training strength development and neural activation for the desired primary sports movements.

Of course, training the primary sports movements does not mean training only the concentric muscle groups in a single range of motion. Every stabilizer, primary agonist, secondary agonist, and antagonist should be trained for maximum activation, maximum strength, and maximum power.

The single primary limiting factor of the primary movers’ ability to generate force (speed and power), is most often a weakness or imbalance in the eccentric strength of the antagonist muscles.

A Winning Tempo

For the rest of this article you will see references to tempo. This is the speed used to execute each portion of a rep and is defined by 4 numbers:

  1. The first number indicates the speed of the eccentric motion. To get stronger in the eccentric phase, we must increase eccentric time under tension (TUT). Usually a TUT of 4 seconds is appropriate for the eccentric motion.
  2. The second number indicates the pause before performing the concentric portion of the movement. For sports movements we typically prefer to utilize the stretch reflex and maximize the force of the reversal, which is why a 0 second pause is used here.
  3. The third number indicates the speed of the concentric motion. Since we are training for maximum force, we use the letter X to mean ‘as fast as possible’. This could be .5, 1, 2, or even 5 seconds, depending on the athlete, the exercise, and the load.
  4. The forth number is the pause before starting the eccentric portion of the rep. 1 second is generally used here so the athlete can reset him or herself before starting the next rep.

Based on the above tempo definitions, you will see a 40X1 tempo used for the rest of this article. This means taking 4 seconds to lower a weight, no pause, an explosive reversal and lift, ending with a one second pause at the top. Always strive for maximal acceleration after the reversal and during the lift.

Case Study: Pitching

Consider baseball players, the more eccentric strength a pitcher has in the external rotators, lats, and traps, the more stamina he will have. That means more power, from more pitches, more often.

One type of training that can help pitchers is to use a 40X1 tempo when executing barbell rows, inverted rows, and dumbbell or cable external rotations.

Case Study: Sprinting

By emphasizing the eccentric strength of the hamstrings, sprinters are better suited to recovering from the propulsion phase – when the hamstrings contract – as well as avoiding injury from the swing phase, which involves powerful contractions of the hip flexors in pulling the knees towards the chest. By the way, the swing phase is when most hamstring injuries occur.

A great exercise for sprinters is the stiff leg or Romanian deadlift, which is often used with a 40X1 tempo. Too much focus is placed on exercises like box jumps, power cleans, and squats – just look at all of the hamstring injuries in the typical sprinting athlete. Break the cycle by training the eccentric movement of the hamstrings – give your quads and hip flexors a break.

Apply These Principles

Apply these principles to your bodybuilding, powerlifting, martial arts, strongman, or sports specific workouts. You will increase your chances of avoiding injury, while also increasing strength, speed, and power in all your primary movements.

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6 Responses to “To Build More Power Train Your Antagonists Eccentrically”

  1. Thanks Steve, I’m definitely going to give some of the 40X1 a shot.

    Didn’t there used to be machines that you could specifically setup to work eccentric movements? I can’t remember the brand, and I was probably like 12, but I swear they existed.

    Always enjoy the knowledge you sprinkle Steve.

    -Matt

  2. how does being overly flexible hinder performance in sports?
    I hope this is not true cause I always thought flexibility is just like strength and power. The higher the better. Plz tell me how flexibility can hinder sport performance. Examples would be nice.

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