132lbs of Raw Power and can out bench your Dad, Mom, and probably the guy sitting next to you. “Bench Please”… Seriously though!

Interview with American Bench Press Record Holder Jennifer Weed Thompson

By Tasha Whelan and Dan Stephenson

Jenn Thompson

Congratulations to champion Bench presser Jennifer Thompson, who just competed in the USAPL Raw Nationals, rocked all three lifts and crushed every women in the Bench press….by a long shot. The Bench press monster talks with us about her experience at nationals, her training, inspirations and more.

T&D: First, how did you get involved in powerlifting? And how long have you been doing it?

Jennifer T: I have been powerlifting since my first competition in 1999. I know, it has been a while! I found powerlifting on my honeymoon in Venice Beach, California. We just happened to be walking by a competition on the beach, I talked with a few of the athletes and lifted in my first competition the following year.

T&D: You just competed in USA Powerlifting Nationals last weekend, how did it go for you? What numbers did you hit, and was it what you were hoping for?

Jennifer T: Actually, Raw Nationals was one of the toughest meets I have ever lifted in. My training was horrible and I was trying to stave off an injury. The week before, I missed a 300 squat (my best being 325) and a 315 deadlift (best is 445). So, going into the meet I had taken a week of rest and was just hoping to hit my openers of 276 squat and 356 deadlift. My bench was the only thing that went well. But, it goes to show you that mental toughness can take you high places. I ended up squatting 314, benching 313, and deadlifting 424. I just got into the zone and the pain was no longer an issue. The competitive adrenaline took over.

T&D: You broke the American record with your Bench press. That is AMAZING!!! How did that feel? Was that the heaviest bench you have lifted?

Jennifer T: It was awesome! I wasn’t sure it was there based on my second lift of 303. When I got the bar through the middle of the lift and it kept traveling I knew I had it. It was an “unofficial” world record since it was not an international competition. I had missed 315 at USA Powerlifting Bench Nationals four weeks before, so this really felt good.

T&D: What other records do you hold?

Jennifer T: I hold the IPF World Record Total in the 63 kg. weight class with 1071 lbs

T&D: I know all of your records had to feel amazing, but is there any one record that was the most memorable for you?

Jennifer T: It had to have been when I broke 300 lbs on the bench press. I had been after it for an entire year before I was able to hit it in competition. Plus, it was such an accomplishment for a female in general.

T&D: Was your training any different leading up to this meet in comparison to other competitions? (Did you have to cut weight, change diet, or make any big changes in training protocols).

Jennifer T: I tried a few new things in this training cycle that did not work at all. I usually only squat once a week, but had heard from several athletes that they squat at least twice, sometimes three times a week. With this being my weakest event, I thought if I added more squats into my workout I would get better at them. We also changed to a seven day lifting cycle instead of an eight day cycle. All these changes over trained me in a huge way. My numbers started to drop a few weeks out from Nationals. I started having trouble sleeping at night and would get really hot and then cold. Needless to say, I will be going back to my eight day training cycle with squats once a week and go back to working on them my way.

T&D: You have an incredible Bench press, far exceeded the majority or all women’s presses. How did you get such a high bench number?

Jennifer T: I really think it is because I have good upper body strength. When I was in high school, I took a class called Marine Fitness every quarter. It is similar to what Crossfit is to today. We did sit ups, pushups, pull ups, rope climbs, stairs, and weights. I believe three years of this helped me have the upper body strength to be good in bench. But, please know, I did not start off incredibly strong. I began with the dumbbells because the bar was a bit much. It was a slow process over the years, but I just kept getting stronger and stronger each month that went by. I think a lot my success relies in the fact that it is my favorite exercise. I think you try harder at the things you like.

T&D: Would you say the bench press is your favorite lift of the 3?

Jennifer T: Absolutely!! But I really like deadlifting as well. It is such an uncomplicated lift.

Jenn Thompson Deadlift

T&D: You have a youtube channel, can you tell us a little about what kind of content is on it and where people can follow you and your amazing work?

Jennifer T: I have two channels. 132 Pounds of Power is my personal channel that I post competition footage, PR’s and have a bench press 101 series (these are several years old).

I just started my Thompson’s Gym channel and had been talking with my training partners about making a video series for years. I just finally decided to jump in and do it. The series itself is a little all over the place, but the topics range from exercises we use with tutorials, protein snacks, how to find a dress that fits athletic women and then just some videos of us cutting up.

T&D: I saw that You, Kimberly Walford, Frances Manias and Bonica Lough have a camp coming up in January, Iron Sisters training camp. Would you mind telling us a little about the camp and if this will be a regularly on going thing for the three of you? Is there still spaces available if women are interested?

Jennifer T: Kimberly and I have been a part of the Ironsisters Training camp in Canada the last two summers. After this last one we decided we needed to take this to the States. Obviously, Kimberly is the best in the world at the deadlift and I have the bench press covered, but we needed someone for the squat. So why not the best female squatter in the World? So we got Bonica Lough to sign on.

It really is about giving women individual attention on how to have good form in the three disciplines and then helping them with accessory exercises to improve these lifts. But, it is also about creating a community. Frances Manias of Canada creates this for us. By the end of the weekend we all leave as friends and know that we will see each other again in the future. The weekend is also full of socials and surprise speakers, product give aways …. A whole lot of fun.

Since we have launched our first camp this January in Omaha, Nebraska (Bonica’s hometown) we have had many people approach us to hold them all around the States.  I see us adding more camps all year and hopefully we will continue to do this for a while. It is something I truly enjoy doing.

Currently, we have just a couple of spots left in the Omaha camp. We will be launching Barbell Brigade and Juggernaut camp in California soon. Marisa Inda will be joining us for these camps.  We will have our annual camp in Canada, but are working on camps in New Jersey, South Carolina and Iowa.

T&D: Where can we expect to see you in the future in terms of competitions and events?

Jennifer T: Kimberly, Bonica and I are heading to the Icelandic Games at the end of January, then you can see us at The Arnold Classic. Of course the biggest honor will be representing the US at the IPF World Championships this summer in Minsk, Belarus.

T&D: What are your next goals (numbers) to hit?

Jennifer T: I have been chasing after 315 this entire year! I hope to hit it in Iceland. But really I want to increase my squat, I believe that is where my weakness is and it needs to get better.

Jenn Thompson Squat

T&D: What is the thing you struggle with the most with training and/ or competing?

Jennifer T: I used to struggle with competing in the very beginning. I think with experience comes knowledge and obviously after 17 years, I have a lot of experience. I have been working with Paul Revelia of Pro Physique and my diet and has been awesome my last few cycles which has led to some great results.  So many of the meets use wilks for the overall lifter, so I want to be as light as I can without losing strength.  I will work my hardest at training. I just started a high reps cycle that usually puts on some good overall strength before I start a competition cycle. I need to stay injury free and be all right with getting rest.

T&D: Who inspires you?

Jennifer T: So many people inspire me! My husband’s belief that I can do these amazing lifts and being a good role model for my kids inspires me. Seeing my high school kids start in my powerlifting club in August and make huge gains by our competition in November. Seeing these women come to our camps and make some minor adjustments to their form and then hit PR’s inspires me and reminds me of who I am and where I came from.

T&D: Any advice for other women who want to get to your level?

Jennifer T: Remember you have to put in the time and the work. Nothing comes fast, you have to be happy making small, consistent, improvements.

Try new things, always be willing to evolve, but be just as willing to discard something that doesn’t work for you.

T&D: Thanks you so much for you time. Congratulations again on an amazing accomplishment, American record and victory. We look forward to following you and watching you continue to succeed and reach your goals. You are a true inspiration!

Jennifer T: Thank you, I would like to thank the people that have helped me get to where I am. My husband, Donovan, training partners: Wheat, Sandbag, Angry Orange, Threads, Big Lanky, Sandbag and Lil Sis.

Thanks to my sponsors: SSP Nutrition, LVD Fitness,  and SBD

Social Media: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest: jenthompson132

Facebook: 132 Pounds of Power

Website: www.132poundsofpower.com

MEET THE MAN WITH THE 1,005 RAW SQUAT

INTERVIEW WITH RAY WILLIAMS

By: Tasha Whelan and Dan Stephenson

Ray Williams

Ray Williams was the first person to raw squat (knee sleeves and belt only) over 1000 pounds (1005 pounds in fact) in a sanctioned competition.  Not only did Ray put up a monster squat but he managed to put together a 530 pound bench and an 844 pound deadlift for a total of 2379 lbs.

First off, I would like to congratulate you on your recent achievement at this year’s USA Powerlifting Nationals in Atlanta GA.

  • T&D:  How did you get involved in powerlifting? And how long have you been doing it? 

Ray: I have been lifting since October 8 2012, and honestly I have always loved the weight room, but I got into the sport just due to the fact that I never stopped lifting after college and I figured that if I’m going to be big and strong I might as well put it to some good use.

  • T&D:  You just competed in USA Powerlifting Nationals last weekend, how did it go for you? What numbers did you hit, and was it what you were hoping for? 

Ray: I squatted 1,005, I bench 530, and I deadlifted 844.  Squat was exactly what Coach Gary and myself had planned, but the deadlift was actually through the roof.  I had attempted 855 a few times in training and always came just a little short so I figured why not and just went for 844 and I got it.

  • T&D: You broke the American record and an unofficial world record with your squat. That is AMAZING!!! How did that feel? Was that the heaviest squat you have lifted?  I believe I have seen a training video in which you squatted 1,000 pounds.

Ray: In training I have done 1,000 but that was in the gym.  I wanted to nail it on the platform and put that chapter behind me now I can focus on bigger numbers.  The feeling was unreal, because the atmosphere at this past meet was crazy I think it was just as impressive as the Arnold.  So the thrill of completing the lift and the energy of the crowd it was crazy!!

  • T&D:  How long does it take for you to recover after lifting this kind of weight?  What does your deload look like after a meet?

Ray:  Well it took about three days to totally get the soreness out and recovery like for example my first squat session this Monday will probably be 800 for 10 sets of 2 just to get back going.

  • T&D: Was your training any different leading up to this meet in comparison to other competitions? (Did you change your diet or make any big changes in training protocols).

Ray: I pretty much do everything the same no matter what because I don’t believe in switching things up.  If it’s not broke I will never change it, so far what I have been doing has been working.

  • T&D:  What lift do you enjoy training the most? 

Ray: I love to squat, but recently deadlift is becoming one of my favorites because I actually know how to do it now.  In the beginning I hated it because I was so terrible at it.

  • T&D: Your recent success has been noticed by various media outlets (ESPN, WorldStarHipHop.com, Bleacher Report, etc.). How does it feel to see yourself on ESPN? 

Ray: I don’t look at it as me, I see IPF/USAPL getting massive amounts of attention.  I want powerlifting to make it to that Olympic stage, and I would love to represent my country as an Olympic athlete.

  • T&D: Where can we expect to see you in the future in terms of competitions and events?

Ray: As of right now I do not have anything scheduled, but the Arnold and Worlds are definitely locked in.

  • T&D: What are your next goals (numbers) to hit?

Ray: I’m in the process of seeing how training goes so that I can realistically set goals for my next meet.

  • T&D:  What is the thing you struggle with the most with training and/ or competing? 

Ray: Sitting still, I love to be in the venue and talk to people.  As a lifter at some point in time you have to get off your feet and rest.  That is the part I struggle with the most.

  • T&D:  Who inspires you?

Ray: Too many people to name, but the two people that inspire me to be great the most are my two sons.  Tae’Sean and Daniel, as a proud father when those to look at me they see Superman and my oldest son Tae actually wants me to come and be his show and tell at school once football season is over.  So my boys are the pride and joy of my life.

  • T&D: How can people find and follow you on social media?

Ray: My Facebook Pages profile is Ray Williams Powerlifting, My actual Facebook page is Ray Orlando Williams, my IG profile is optimusprime_334, and my twitter is Coach_Williams1

  • T&D: Any tips or words of advice for other lifters who want to get to your level of competition? 

Ray: Find what works for you. It’s super easy to see a guy crushing big numbers and want to follow a program, but if that program is not for you then what?  So if you are a young lifter find a mentor who can guide you through as much as possible then once you outgrow his/her teachings then you find your own way.

Ray, Thanks again for taking time out of your day to talk with us. It is so inspiring and motivating to watch you compete and see you continue to progress and succeed. We wish you the best of luck in your future competition and endeavors, and look forward to seeing you on the platform!

 

 

 

 

Heavy Hitters Representing in Everett

The Heavy Hitters Powerlifting group were well represented Saturday January 14th at the UPSA Push Pull event held at EGO Strength and Performance in Everett, WA.  Including Tasha and myself, there were 13 lifters from our group in this competition and nearly half of them were first time competitors.  From a coaching perspective, this was a blast to be a part of so many lifters’ first experience with powerlifting.  From an athlete perspective, this was more of a “fun-meet” being that the we were there to coach and support our team and enjoy competing next to them.

Overall, this was an awesome meet!  It was well organized and ran like a well oiled machine.  The guys up at EGO are great and have an awesome environment to lift and compete in.  As a pleasant bonus, the meet also had an amazing videographer/photographer, Bridget Raftery, capture the event and put together lifter videos for a very affordable cost.

As a team, our athletes did very well for themselves.  Everyone from our group put up a total (nobody bombed out) and many set PR’s.  Many even won or placed in their weight class.

Great job team: Deb Booth, Lauren Elkin, Janet Yeilding, Chris Leiter, Beth Zborowski, Erica Shepard, Amy Jenks, Kevin Bereta, Lisa Dimak, Morgan Smith, and Steadman Mathis III.  Way to represent and congrats on all of your hard work.  Also a huge thanks for all that came out to support and for all of those that were involved in putting this meet together.

Check out some of the photos and videos from the meet below:

USPA Medals
Photo credit: Bridget Raftery

Best Lifter Trophy
Photo Credit: Bridget Raftery

Morgan Award
Photo Credit: Bridget Raftery

Deb Award
Photo Credit: Bridget Raftery

Tasha Award Ceremony
Photo Credit: Bridget Raftery

Heavy Hitters Group Photo EGO PP
Photo Credit: Victoria Lynn Heft


Boosting the Bench Press

There are a number of things that can be holding you back from a big bench press.  In order to get your bench press moving in the right direction, here is a brief checklist of what your training should address:

  1. Practice proper technique.

There is a difference between training movements and training muscles.  When focusing on increasing your bench press, you need to practice the technique and aim to perfect the movement.  It pays to be as efficient as possible with your technique.  This means finding an efficient bar path, minimizing excess range of motion, and creating a stable environment to transfer force.  If you are utilizing the bench press to train the chest, you won’t make it very far in pressing big weights.  The technique used to “target” a muscle is going to much less efficient at moving heavier weights.  There are other exercises that can be better utilized for targeting certain muscle groups such as your pecs.

  1. Follow a properly planned program

If you are not following program of some sort, you are doing yourself a disservice.  There is so much information on training that is easily available these days, there is no excuse to not have a plan for each workout.  Progress takes patience.  You will not progress very much if you are testing your max every week.  It takes time to fine tune technique, build up strength, and adapt to the stresses of training.

  1. Increase muscle mass

There is merit to focusing some of your training to targeting muscles.  An increase in muscle size will almost undoubtedly increases that muscle’s potential for greater strength.  The larger the cross-sectional area of a muscle, the more contractile units it exhibits, therefore increasing its potential to produce more force when trained properly.  Therefore, do not completely neglect training bicep curls and chest flies.  Keep the primary focus of your training on strength but add-in some bodybuilding style lifts and sets to supplement your strength gains.  Personally, I prefer to end my strength workouts with a good muscle pump.

If you would like to learn from one of the best benchers in the world and you are in the greater Seattle area, be sure to make it out to EGO Strength and Performance in Everett, WA this Saturday October 10th to meet Adrian Larsen.  Adrian has held the world record for his amazing 585lb bench press at a bodyweight of only 220lbs.  He has an incredible story to tell as he has overcome much adversity in his life to achieve this goal.

Check out www.larsenpress.com for more information.

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Coachable Cueing

“Knees out!”

“Tuck the elbows!”

“Get tight!”

“Drive!”

“Chest up!”

“Bend the bar”

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A cue is defined as a signal for action.  In coaching, a cue is a simple reminder to perform an action that was previously discussed between a coach and athlete.  All of the above cues can work great, but they can also work horribly.  The difference in whether or not a cue is good or bad is the athlete’s understanding or interpretation of what that cue is telling him/her to do.

If a coach has not made sure that his/her athlete has a mutual understanding of what the intention is behind the cue that is being used, it is essentially useless.  For example, the “knees out!” cue for the squat; the athlete may interpret this cue literally as pushing his/her knees out as far as possible.  The coach may have intended this to be a reminder to apply torque through the hips by externally rotating the hip while rooting the feet to the floor.  The simple interpretation by the athlete can lead to a lack of tension/activation of the hips and rolling the pressure onto the outsides of the feet all while trying to move the knees out as he/she was told.

Another example would be to “bend the bar” during the bench press.  The goal of this cue should be to create torque and to engage the lats during the bench press.  The literal interpretation that the athlete may have of “bending the bar” may be limited to turning the wrist as if to snap a twig.  Obviously the latter is going to be much less useful when it comes to pressing heavier weights and will most likely become a limiting factor in getting stronger.

More to that, to an untrained coach’s eye, this may LOOK the same as if the athlete was accomplishing what the coach has intended although the outcome is very different.  This is the coach’s fault.  The coach should have either A) explained the cue and the expectation more clearly or B) chosen another verbal cue that makes sense to the athlete.

What I have found to work best when coaching others is to first explain the key principles that you are trying to achieve through a certain technique.  For the powerlifts, this usually starts with cueing the trunk and proximal joints (shoulders, hips) into position and explain their role throughout the movement.  Following that the distal segments (feet, hands) are addressed, and finally the action(s) that drives the movement.  Generally speaking, if you focus on the proximal and then the distal, the elbows and knees will often “fall into place” and will not require additional coaching or cueing.

With this method, I try to use as few cue’s as possible to achieve what I am asking of my athletes.  The less cues that a coach uses, the less clutter in the athletes’ mind.  It amazes me when I go to a powerlifting meet and you can hear some coaches yelling ten different things to their athletes and then expect them to remember it all and perform at their best.

Coaching is an art and not every athlete learns the same way.  There will be people that are very literal and will try to do exactly as they are told through cueing.  It is important that they, the athletes, understand and interpret the coaches’ cues correctly in order for the cue to be effective.  Instead of using generic cues that may or may not be effective, coaches should develop and refine a coaching language of their own that coincides with their teachings techniques and find a way to adapt and apply it to every athlete they work with.

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Programming for Maximum Strength Seminar

Happy Memorial Day!

This weekend I was fortunate enough to present to a group of peers and fitness enthusiasts.  I presented on program design for maximal strength gains.  For those of you that attended this morning, as promised below are a copy of the presentation slides:

Programming Presentation 2015

For those of you reading that were unable to attend the seminar live, I will be uploading a video recording of the presentation here later this week.  Check back in and let me know what you think when you get a chance.  I would love to hear some feedback!

To go along with the presentation, I have put together a 3-week strength template for those interested in trying it out.  You can download it from the following link:

Three Week Strength Template

Stay strong!  Remember to thank someone who has sacrificed and served for our freedom this weekend.

-Dan

The Key to Unlocking Hidden Strength

There are a number of different tips and tricks out there that promise to improve your strength.  Some are good, some are questionable, and some are downright lies.  If I can share with you only one tip to help you to increase your strength in almost all exercises, it would be this…

Learn what neutral spine is and how to properly brace the trunk musculature.

One of the most common mistakes people make in the gym with squats and deadlifts is neglecting neutral spine and improperly bracing.  This will not only limit your strength, but it will also put your lower back at risk of injury.  Most people would agree that squatting or deadlifting with a rounded back would not be considered proper form nor ideal… but what about a hyper-extended back?  When loading the axial skeleton (or spine) such as in the back squat and deadlift, many people will overcompensate for the load and hyper-extend their back.  This is usually in fear of having the load break their form leading to rounding of the back.  Although rounding of the back is far from ideal, so is hyper-extension.

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Try this (at your own risk):  find an empty soda can (or two) and stand on it upright.  Notice that it will support your weight.  Now have a friend flick it, and watch it collapse underneath you.  The solid cylindrical structure can support a lot of weight in comparison to its own weight.  When the structure is compromised by a dent, notice that the structure collapses under the same load.  Now consider your abdomen.  Achieving neutral spine and learning to breathe properly while bracing the trunk will mimic the flawless soda can.  Through increasing intra-abdominal pressure and a forming cylindrical-like structure through proper breathing and positioning, the body will be able to handle higher loads and transfer more force.

Learn how to achieve a neutral spine, brace and breathe properly, and more in our upcoming workshop.  We will be covering how to set-up and properly execute the deadlift.

Details of the deadlift workshop

Where: Pro Sports Club Willow’s Road in Redmond, WA

When: Saturday April 4th, 2015

Time: 12 pm- 2 pm

Cost: FREE (must be a member of Pro Sports Club to attend)

Images from the following sources (found through Google image search)
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Ideal Strength Standards: Where do you fall?

As a personal trainer, I am often asked by clients how their strength stacks up against their peers.  Now, I believe age plays a role in strength potential but this is only minor compared to one’s training age, or experience in the gym.  As a powerlifter, I have seen people do some amazing feats of strength relative to their body weight, regardless of age.

Inspired by Dan John’s strength standards, I have put together my own strength standards chart that reflects a primarily barbell style of training for the squat, hinge, upper body press, and upper body pull.  Click the link below to download a copy.

Ideal Strength-Standards Chart

Here is how you use it:

Start with one movement such as the squat, and begin with the first level on the chart “Proper Form in the Goblet Squat”.  If you can complete the first, move on to the second, continue until you can no longer complete the following level and enter the highest level completed into the chart under the movement, in this case “SQUAT.”

Continue this with all four movements until you have a score for each.  It is recommended that you test each movement on separate days.  As you can imagine, warming up and testing each level can take some time and can be quite taxing.

Once you have a score for each movement, check out your graph to see how balanced or imbalanced your skills are.  A good goal for most individuals would be to reach a level four on all movements but more importantly remain fairly balanced throughout each movement.

Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

-Dan

Eccentric Training For Athletic Performance – Micah Faas CSCS

Today’s post comes to us from personal trainer Micah Faas CSCS.  If you do not already know Micah, he is a very bright and talented trainer from Minnesota (which means he is also very polite).  Micah is currently working out of Bellevue, Washington.  He is an avid sports fan and a sport specific training specialist.  If you have any questions for Micah, you can reach him at [email protected]  Enjoy! -Dan

 

Eccentric training is a method of training that has long been used by body builders, power lifters, and athletes. This article aims to explain why, when, and how to use eccentric training to maximize your athletic performance. First lets cover some basics.

What is eccentric training?

When performing a lift or a movement there are three types of muscle contractions:

Concentric – The muscle is shortening while producing force. This occurs when the force produced by the muscle is greater than the force causing the contraction.

Isometric – The muscle is producing force without changing length. This occurs when the force produced by the muscle is equal to that of the force causing contraction.

Eccentric – The muscle is lengthening while producing force. This occurs when the opposing force is greater than the force produced by contraction.

For example, when performing a bench press the initial movement of lowering the bar to your chest is the eccentric portion. Your muscles are contracting eccentrically while simultaneously lengthening to act like a brake, preventing the bar from dropping on your chest. The brief moment when the bar stops moving as it reaches your chest immediately before you press it back up is the isometric portion of the exercise. As your arms extend and you begin to press the bar the muscle contracts concentrically as the amount of force you are now producing is enough to overcome the weight of the bar.

Eccentric training focuses on the eccentric contraction (muscle lengthening) and your ability to use the kinetic energy stored in your muscles during this contraction to develop more force with the concentric contraction. Incorporating eccentrics into your current training program can have huge benefits for all types of athletic performance.

 

Why Eccentrics For Athletic Performance?

What separates a good athlete from a great one? When you take skill out of the equation and look at raw athletic ability, what is it that separates the haves from the have-nots? It is the athlete’s ability to produce more force in less time.

Adrian Peterson (child abuse aside) is widely considered to be the best running back in the NFL. Have you ever noticed that Peterson is always running through a lot of arm tackles? Yes he is big and yes he is fast, but so are his opponents trying to tackle him. Size and speed definitely play a roll in his ability to avoid tackles, but that is not what sets him apart. No, what sets him apart is his ability to get defenders attempting to tackle him out of position. Ok, that sounds simple enough but how does he do that? The secret is his ability to decelerate his body quicker than his opponents. When Peterson goes to make a cut so does his defender, but Peterson is able to absorb a greater amount of kinetic energy eccentrically in a shorter duration of time. He then uses that kinetic energy to explode concentrically in the other direction, leaving his opponent out of position behind him and only able to stick his arms out to try to slow him down. The ability to win the battle eccentrically, even by a fraction of a second is the difference between being tackled for a loss and breaking free down the sideline for a touchdown. It is the difference between being able to cross your defender over to create space for a wide-open jumper and having your shot blocked back into your face. It is the difference between you being a good athlete or a great athlete.

Eccentric training for athletic performance isn’t just about being able to make quick cuts or juke someone out of their socks. Eccentric training allows us to run faster, jump higher, and throw harder. With every athletic movement there is also a counter movement: The squat before a jump, the wind-up before a pitch, the foot plant before you make a cut in the opposite direction. But in order to maximize the movement you have to also be able to minimize the time spent performing the counter-movement and maximize the amount of kinetic energy your muscles can store eccentrically. The chart below, taken from Cal Dietz’s Triphasic Training (2012) illustrates this ability to quickly store and release kinetic energy. Dietz refers to this as winning the “Battle of the V”.

Triphasic Training

As you can see, being able to generate more force eccentrically in less time results in you also being able to generate more force concentrically in less time. It’s a double whammy. When you win one, you will win the other.

So how do you incorporate eccentric training into your current training program? The first thing to realize is that despite its many benefits, eccentric training is extremely taxing and requires more recovery time than traditional training methods. Furthermore, you should have some previous strength training experience (at least a year) before dabbling with eccentrics. It is also important to note that if you are injured, or recovering from an injury you should avoid eccentric training unless given clearance by your doctor, physical therapist, or strength coach. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are a few different ways you can start using eccentrics to improve your athletic performance.

 

Plyometric Movements

Yes, plyometric exercises are a form of eccentric training. You are training your muscles to minimize ground contact time by rapidly decelerating, stabilizing, and then exploding concentrically by using the stored kinetic energy (stretch-shortening cycle). You are also training your neuromuscular system through the stretch reflex mechanism. This protective mechanism is activated when the neuromuscular system detects a muscle being stretched and rapidly contracts the muscle to prevent it from overstretching to bring it back to its original length to prevent injury. The stretch reflex mechanism is likely why your hamstrings feel tight despite the fact that they are elongated while sitting, which we all do far too much of. But that is another topic for another day.

Depth jumps and drop jumps are two good exercises to maximize eccentric performance. When performing these, be sure you are landing on a soft surface, grass or rubber mats work well. With depth jumps, you should land as far away from the box as the box is high. So, if you’re standing on a 30-inch box you should land approximately 30 inches away. When executing depth jumps you should use a simple athletic stance position just as you would whenever you jump.

Drop jump performance can vary. You can land in a regular athletic stance for general carryover, in a stiff-legged stance to emphasize lower leg force production ability, in a 1/2 squat to emphasize the hips and hamstrings, in a split squat stance to emphasize all around balance, and in a 1-legged stance to heighten the magnitude of force absorbed. It is important that you are able to absorb the impact and “stick” the landing. If you are unable to land without faltering your box height is too high. Box heights of 24 inches for males and 18 inches for females are a good starting point.

With all plyometric movements it is important to keep the sets short in duration and explosive in nature. Remember; we are training to develop maximal force in minimal time. Once you start getting fatigued your eccentric and concentric movement slows down and you will find yourself pausing briefly at the midpoint of the movement (isometric hold). When this happens you are losing the benefits and your fatigue will make you more prone to injury. You want to keep the movement fast and free flowing. If you don’t want to hesitate midway through your cut or before your jump, don’t train that way. Aim for 60-100 ground contacts or total volume for novice athletes, 100-150 for more advanced athletes.

 

Tempo Squats

A tempo squat is a squat where each portion of the movement is done for a specified amount of time. An example of this would be a 3 second eccentric downward movement, a 1 second isometric hold at the bottom of the squat, and an explosive concentric return to the top. For workout card purposes I like to write this as “Tempo Squat 3:1:0”, with the zero meaning as quickly and explosively as possible. Tempo squats can be done 1-2 times per week. Be sure to allow at least 2-3 days of recovery time before repeating. These are best done in sets of 5-6 repetitions at 70-80% 1RM.

Advanced lifters can superset tempo squats (try a 5:1:0 tempo), with an exlosive plyometric exercise such as box jumps or power step-ups. Keep the plyometric set small, no more than 10 reps to avoid excessive fatigue.

 

Heavy Eccentrics (Greater than 1RM)

One of the great things about eccentric training is that it allows you to work at weights above your 1RM, which can lead to greater strength and hypertrophy. In at 5-week study, Tesch et al, (2004) showed that an eccentric training group could increase their strength by 11% and mass by 6% compared to a concentric-only control group. That is pretty significant! Another study (Farthing & Chilibeck, 2003) looking exclusively at hypertrophy showed the exact same thing, eccentric training is more effective for gaining muscle size than traditional resistance training.  Higher intensity means greater stress, which means greater adaptation. Your anabolic response from the heavier load will force you to recruit more muscle fibers, which will allow you to move more weight on the concentric portion of the lift.

Unfortunately, due to the high intensity of the load and the risk of injury, lifting above your 1RM should only be done by advanced lifters and with spotters present. When using supramaximal eccentric training you should expect greater post-exercise soreness. However, according to Steven Fleck and William Kraemer’s book Designing Resistance Training Programs (2003), after 1-2 weeks of eccentric training your soreness should not be any greater than from tradition resistance training.

To lift above your 1RM, try one of the following techniques:

Forced Negatives – With this technique, your training partner or spotter applies additional force to the bar during the lowering/eccentric phase only. If you have an experienced spotter or someone you feel confident in, you can ask them to apply more force at the top of the lift where you are stronger, and less at the bottom where you are weaker. The downside to this technique is that the additional force provided is not quantifiable.

Eccentric Only – This method involves the lifter only performing the eccentric portion of the lift. You will need a power rack to do this on your own. Set the safety bar or pin so that it will be at the bottom of your lift. Lower the weight in a controlled manner, aim for 3-7 seconds, until you reach the safety bar. Rest the bar here, get up and unload the bar so that you can lift it back to the starting position. Yes this is slow and tedious but you will be thankful for the rest. If you can round up 2 spotters they can stand at either end of the bar and lift it back up for you.

Single Limb Eccentrics – These work best when using a machine such as a leg press. Use one leg/arm during the eccentric portion, then use both limbs to return it to the starting position.

 

Eccentrics Plus Over-speed Training

One of the arguments against eccentric training for athletic performance is that if you train “slow” you will be slow. But a recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning (Cook et al, 2013) made an interesting discovery. Eccentric training with over-speed stimuli was more effective than traditional resistance training in increasing peak power in a countermovement jump. Eccentric training induced no beneficial training response in maximal running speed; however, the addition of over-speed exercises salvaged this relatively negative effect when compared with eccentric training alone.

What does this mean for you? It means that if it is important to include over-speed training with eccentric training, especially if speed is vital to your sport. The following video by Armour Building, shows you three different ways you can use kettlebell swings for over-speed eccentric training. The first is a traditional KB Swing, but you accelerate the bell back toward your body instead of just letting it float. The second technique involves using a band to do the acceleration back into your body for you. The third and final technique uses a partner who pushes the bell back down when you reach the top of your swing.

Video: Over-Speed Eccentrics With Kettlebell by Armour Building

Bands are very helpful in achieving the over-speed effect with both traditional barbell and body weight exercises. Keep in mind that with bands you may be accelerating a heavy object in the direction of your body so having a spotter for weighted exercises is a smart idea.

Another technique is downhill running or bounding. The act of running or jumping downhill functions in a similar way to depth jumps. You are using the increased landing forces provided by gravity to slightly overload the eccentric portion of the jump (or stride). It is important to find a gentle downhill slope so that you can maintain proper form and stride length throughout.

 

Using Eccentric Training and Avoiding Injury

As mentioned earlier, eccentric training is extremely taxing on the body and should not be overdone. Be mindful of your rest periods and recovery days. This will help to prevent injury and overtraining. Keep your eccentric lifts to only a couple of exercises per workout. If your goal is athletic performance you should stick to compound movements only.

Plyometric and over-speed training in particular are easy to overdo. Remember that you only need 1-2 days per week of this type of training to achieve results. Ensuring sufficient recovery time is extremely important to maximize performance gains. If you cut this short you are not giving your muscles adequate time to recover and adapt. Without adaption there is no improvement.

In-season athletes should not begin eccentric training until after the playing season. It is best to begin to develop your eccentric base during the off-season. A 2-6 week mesocycle prior to your competition period is the ideal time to focus on maximizing eccentric performance. Once you begin competing it is best to lay-off any heavy eccentrics and focus on 1-2 plyometric and/or <1RM eccentric lifts per training session.

As if improving your performance wasn’t enough, eccentric training may also be beneficial for both injury prevention (Pererson et al, 2011) as well as injury rehab (Lorenz & Reiman, 2011). A number of sports injuries occur when you are unable to decelerate your body properly. You see a lot of non-contact injuries, especially to the knee that could be prevented if you were better able to decelerate your body when landing or changing direction.

 

Recap

  • The ability to develop more force in less time is what makes you a great athlete.
  • Being able to store additional force eccentrically allows you to generate additional force concentrically.
  • Training the counter-movement leads to a faster, more explosive action.
  • Plyometrics can be used for eccentric training and are game-changers when done in moderation.
  • Tempo squats are a great way to train eccentrically and can replace traditional squats in your current workout.
  • Lifting eccentrically at >1RM can improve your strength and size, but should be done only by advanced lifters and those with spotters present.
  • Eccentric training paired with over-speed training will prevent you from losing speed and increase your power output.
  • Injury prevention is another benefit of training eccentrics, but be careful incorporating these if you are currently an in-season athlete. The off-season is the time to change up your program.

 

Micah Faas CSCS

[email protected]

 

References:

Cook, C., Beaven, C., & Kilduff, L. (2013). Three Weeks of Eccentric Training Combined With Overspeed Exercises Enhances Power and Running Speed Performance Gains in Trained Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1280-1286. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22820207

Dietz, C., & Peterson, B. (2012). Triphasic training: A systematic approach to elite speed and explosive strength performance. Hudson, WI: Bye Dietz Sport Enterprise.

Farthing, J., & Chilibeck, P. (2003). The Effects Of Eccentric And Concentric Training At Different Velocities On Muscle Hypertrophy. European Journal of Applied Physiology,578-586. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from

Fleck S, Kraemer W. Types of strength training. In: Designing Resistance Training Programs. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2004: 40-43.

Lorenz, D., & Reiman, M. (2011). The Role And Implementation Of Eccentric Training In Athletic Rehabilitation: Tendonopothy, Hamstring Strains, And ACL Reconstruction. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 6(1), 27-44.

Petersen, J., Thorborg, K., Nielsen, M., Budtz-Jorgensen, E., & Holmich, P. (2011). Preventive Effect of Eccentric Training on Acute Hamstring Injuries in Men’s Soccer: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 2296-2303. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21825112

Tesch, P. A., Ekberg, A., Lindquist, D. M. and Trieschmann, J. T. (2004), Muscle hypertrophy following 5-week resistance training using a non-gravity-dependent exercise system. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 180: 89–98. doi: 10.1046/j.0001-6772.2003.01225.x