The Eccentric Side Of Pulls — How Should You Lower The Barbell?

by tffitness on August 31, 2016

IMG_3816Although it’s only natural to focus mostly on how you actually lift the barbell during deadlifts, the way that you lower the bar has a significant impact on the benefits (and drawbacks) you experience from this excellent exercise.

Unlike most other resistance-training movement, when it comes to the deadlift, you’ve got a few different options when it comes to how you perform the eccentric (or lowering) phase of the lift:

1)    Drop the bar: That’s right — assuming you’re using rubberized bumper plates, you’ve got the option of lifting the barbell and then literally just opening up your hands and letting the bar fall to the floor after every rep of the set.

2)    Maintaining your grip on the bar while pretty much letting it freefall back to the floor. This is how most powerlifters would lower the bar in competition.

3)    Use a controlled but brief (2-3 second) lowering phase followed by a brief “reset” before taking the next rep. By this I mean you lower the bar under muscular tension, then briefly “disengage” before starting the next rep.

4)    Use an extenuated (3-5 second) lowering phase followed by a brief “reset” before taking the next rep.

5)    Use a “touch and go” technique: regardless of how long the eccentric tempo is, you don’t reset between reps, but instead, maintain continuous tension throughout the entire movement, allowing the barbell plates to softly touch the floor between each rep.

Now while it might seem that this is more analysis than most people need, the way you lower the bar really does make a difference in terms of your lifting performance, and the benefits (or drawbacks) you receive from the exercise. Let’s have a look:

The Effect Of Stretch-Shortening Cycle (SSC) On Performance

It’s well known that a muscle can contract with greater force if it’s placed on a brief stretch immediately before it’s asked to contract. Think about throwing a ball — you cock your arm back behind you (the stretch) and then immediately throw (the contraction). Same thing with a jump — the pre-jump “crouch” is the stretch, and then subsequent jump is the contraction.

If you couldn’t throw or jump immediately after the stretch, your performance would be significantly impaired, right? Imagine cocking your arm, staying there for 5 seconds, and then throwing that ball — you’d probably lose 40-50% of the distance that you would’ve achieved otherwise, right?

This example sheds a bit of light on why the first rep on a set of heavy deads often feels harder than the second (or sometimes even third) rep — it’s because the first rep doesn’t have the benefit of the pre-stretch that every subsequent rep does.

(Unless of course, you learn how to pump your hips prior to the first rep — here’s a video that’ll show you how to do just that:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXj7ZCdx8EQ

So needless to say, the way you lower the bar has a meaningful impact on how well the next rep will go in terms of SSC. If you lower the bar economically (i.e., about 1-2 seconds) but under control, and then immediately commence with your next rep, you’ll have maximum benefit from the SSC cause by the previous rep. If however, you simply drop the bar prior to taking the next rep, you won’t. And, on the other end of the spectrum, if you lower the bar very slowly — perhaps 4-6 seconds — you’ll be handicapping your performance on the next rep due to excessive fatigue.

Bottom line: if your only (or primary) goal is to have a good performance on your next rep, lower the bar in such a way that you’ll receive benefit from the first rep’s SSC. Out even more simply, do the rep the same way you’d throw a ball or do a vertical jump. If you’re not sure what your best eccentric tempo is, think about how fast you lower the bar during a squat.

CT_graphic FB 160825b

The Eccentric Phase And Muscular Hypertrophy

It’s well understood that the eccentric portion of a muscular contraction plays a very important role in the subsequent growth of that muscle — in fact, it’s likely to be more important than the concentric (lifting) portion of the lift. If you’ve ever had sore quads and/or shins after a hike, it was the downhill portion of that hike that resulted in most (if not all) of that soreness. Similarly, if you’ve ever noticed that some activities — even if you do them really hard— don’t lead to soreness (which is a sign of the microscopic damage that precedes rebuilding by the way), such as swimming, its because that activity doesn’t involve significant eccentric stress to the muscles. So, the bottom line with this topic is that if you’re deadlifting for the sole or primary purpose of building muscle, slower, more prolonged eccentric tempos should be considered.

The Eccentric Phase And Recovery

Every rose has its thorn as the song goes, and slower eccentric tempos are no exception: anything that has great potential to stimulate the growth of more muscle, also requires longer recovery times. This especially applies to slower eccentric reps. So, if recovery (between sets, or workouts) is your primary concern, I’d suggest using abbreviated eccentric tempos — and that might even mean literally letting go of the bar at the completion of each concentric rep.

I use exactly that technique under three different circumstances:

1)    During the “prep set:” The prep set is that last warmup set. It’s purpose is mostly to span the gap between the previous warmup set and your first work set. Let’s say my goal is to hit 405 for as many reps as possible in one set. I’ll warmup with perhaps 135×5, 185×5, 225×5, 275×3, 315×3, and then, on my prep set with 365, I’ll take one rep, and just drop the bar once I lock it out — this way, I feel the weight without suffering too much fatigue from it.

2)    When my back is against the wall: Sometimes during difficult pulling sessions, I find that I need to use every energy-conserving trick on the book to survive the workout. And as it turns out, lowering the bar in the most economical way possible is one of those tricks. The idea is to lower the bar slowly enough to generate a decent SSC, but not any longer than that. Now remember that if you’ve mastered the hip pump that we discussed earlier, you can just literally drop the bar, re-grip, pump the hips, and take the next rep.

3)    During my light day for the deadlift: I’ve noticed that I seem to benefit from pulling twice a week, as long as one of those days is “light.” But there are two ways of pulling light — use (relatively) light weights is the standard definition, but you could also go a bit heavier, while dropping the bar from the top, which will facilitate a faster recovery. More gain, less pain.

Wrapping Up…

The way you should lower the bar during pulls is closely ties to your goals (crazy, right?) If recovery is at a premium, save energy when lowering the bar. If you’re a competitive powerlifter getting close to a meet, lower the bar the way you’ll be required to in competition. If more muscle is your primary concern, use an accentuated eccentric tempo to promote the microscopic damage necessary to promote a hypertrophic response.

And finally, this whole discussion might strike you as pedantic, but trust me, over time (and this is especially true the longer you’ve been training), the little things really add up.

I hope this discussion has been valuable for you — if you have thoughts, questions, or comments of your own, I’d love to hear them below!

This Week’s Training

Highlights:

• Low Bar Squat 365×1

• Bench Press 225 (6×2)

• Deadlift 440×3

• Close-Grip Bench Press 225×2

I managed to chalk up a handful of good performances this week, but notably a pretty easy 365 squat. I’ve also managed to do a lot of heavy benching with almost no shoulder pain at all — I credit John Rusin’s 3-drill warmup for a lot of that — here’s what that is by the way:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s03X7SpzcTc

Aside from all that, I’m just trying to keep the numbers moving in the right direction while staying out of pain, and so far, so good.

Thanks guys and gals, hpe you’re having a productive week!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Bodyweight: 197 Pounds

Low Bar Squat

Set 1: 45 lb × 5

Set 2: 95 lb × 5

Set 3: 135 lb × 5

Set 4: 185 lb × 3

Set 5: 225 lb × 3

Set 6: 275 lb × 2

Set 7: 315 lb × 1

Set 8: 345 lb × 2

Set 9: 365 lb × 1 (Video Below)

Set 10: 315 lb × 3

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRR_gFu-xH4

Smith Squat

Set 1: 95 lb × 5

Set 2: 135 lb × 5

Set 3: 185 lb × 5

Set 4: 225 lb × 5

Set 5: 275 lb × 5

Set 6: 275 lb × 5

Deadlift

Set 1: 135 lb × 5

Set 2: 225 lb × 5

Set 3: 315 lb × 3

Set 4: 365 lb × 1 (Video Below)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bodyweight: 196.4 Pounds

Rusin Shoulder Warm Up

Set 1: 1 lb × 10

Set 2: 1 lb × 10

Set 3: 1 lb × 10

Paused Competition Bench Press

Set 1: 45 lb × 8

Set 2: 95 lb × 8

Set 3: 135 lb × 6

Set 4: 165 lb × 4

Set 5: 185 lb × 3

Set 6: 205 lb × 2

Set 7: 225 lb × 2

Set 8: 225 lb × 2

Set 9: 225 lb × 2

Set 10: 225 lb × 2

Set 11: 225 lb × 2

Set 12: 225 lb × 2

Set 13: 205 lb × 4

Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension

Set 1: 70 lb × 8

Set 2: 80 lb × 6

Set 3: 90 lb × 6

Set 4: 90 lb × 6

Set 5: 90 lb × 6

EZ Bar Curl

Set 1: 55 lb × 8

Set 2: 75 lb × 8

Set 3: 75 lb × 8

Set 4: 75 lb × 8

Set 5: 75 lb × 8

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Bodyweight: 196.6 Pounds

Goblet Squat

Set 1: 25 lb × 10

Set 2: 25 lb × 10

Deadlift

Set 1: 135 lb × 5

Set 2: 135 lb × 5

Set 3: 185 lb × 5

Set 4: 225 lb × 5

Set 5: 275 lb × 5

Set 6: 315 lb × 3

Set 7: 365 lb × 3

Set 8: 405 lb × 3

Set 9: 440 lb × 3 (Video Below)

Set 10: 405 lb × 3

High Bar Squat

Set 1: 45 lb × 10

Set 2: 95 lb × 5

Set 3: 135 lb × 5

Set 4: 185 lb × 3

Set 5: 225 lb × 3

Set 6: 275 lb × 1

Seated Leg Curl

Set 1: 145 lb × 8

Set 2: 145 lb × 8

Set 3: 145 lb × 8

Friday, August 26, 2016

Bodyweight: 196.2 Pounds

Rusin Shoulder Warm Up

Set 1: 1 lb × 10

Set 2: 1 lb × 10

Set 3: 1 lb × 10

Close Grip Bench Press

Set 1: 45 lb × 10

Set 2: 95 lb × 8

Set 3: 135 lb × 6

Set 4: 165 lb × 4

Set 5: 185 lb × 3

Set 6: 185 lb × 3

Set 7: 185 lb × 3

Set 8: 205 lb × 2

Set 9: 215 lb × 2

Set 10: 225 lb × 2

Set 11: 205 lb × 2

Set 12: 205 lb × 2

Chin Up

Set 1: 1 rep

Set 2: 2 reps

Set 3: 3 reps

Set 4: 4 reps

Set 5: 5 reps

Set 6: 10 reps

Tricep Pushdowns

Set 1: 140 lb × 8

Set 2: 140 lb × 8

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

Set 1: 60 lb × 8

Set 2: 70 lb × 8

Leave a Comment

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Adele

Bellissimo post! Alcune cose mi convincono poco (tipo in 12 anni in una scuola cattolica io di piante &qt;sotacre&quou; tolto l'ulivo non ne ho viste… ma magari non mi ricordo ^^) ma non è un po' troppo presto per farsi gli auguri? Comunque buon Natale! ^^ Quando arriva l'ipad che dovevi regalarmi? Simone

Reply

Previous post:

Next post: