Types of Muscle Contraction and Their use at the Gym

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29 Oct 2016 - General

photo from Discover Magazine Blogs

Most of us who hit the gym were brainwashed with the adage "no pain, no gain". This mentality can lead to injuries and sports scientists do not advise it all the time. The new mantra now is train hard but train smart. With this in mind, we can take advantage of the different types of muscle contraction for different goals/purposes. The three types are arranged according to the greatest amount of sress imposed to the muscle namely:

  • Eccentric contraction 
    • Lengthening of the muscle is called eccentric contraction.
      • This is usually the lowering part of an exercise where muscle is stretched (i.e. returning to resting position after a biceps curl)
    • Resistance > muscle contraction 
      • Hypertrophy is greatest with this type of contraction.
      • Of very improtant note, injury such as strain or tear is also greatest with eccentric contraction.
    • Use at the gym:
      • For hypertrophy only when pressed for time
        • Bodybuilders and movie stars use this technique for immediate muscle gains
        • This type of training is not functional and cannot be applied for real world strength and may produce muscle imbalance.
        • Slowly lower a heavy weight in a controlled manner to use eccentric contraction to your advantage.
  • Isometric
    • Muscle tension is generated without visible contraction.
      • An example would be bracing the gut in anticipation of a punch.
    • Muscle contraction force = resistance force
      • Safe to perform for both the tendons and muscles
    • Use at the gym:
      • For stability exercises
        • Core exercises such as plank are isometric exercises.
        • Better than crunches, sit-ups, leg raises, and back extension exercises as it trains the core simultaneously.
      • For rehabilitation of injuries
        • This is usually the first step for rehabilitation when joint immobilization is preferred.
        • There is preservation of muscle mass and improvement of strength without risk for injury.
        • Brace the gut for 10 seconds to perform isometric core exercises. Work your way up to 30 seconds to enjoy the benefits of having a strong core to avoid pain and improve athletic performance.
  • Concentric 
    • Shortening of the muscle is called concentric contraction.
      • The "lifting" phase of an exercise (i.e. performing a biceps curl)
    • Muscle contraction force > resistance force
      • Safe for muscle hypertrophy but with more gradual results when compared to eccentric contraction
    • Use at the gym:
      • For muscle hypertrophy
        • It is the best way to bulk up without risking injury.
        • Training with concentric contration can translate to real world strength and athletic performance.

For the community, do you use this types of muscle contraction to your advantage? What are your favorite exercises at the gym?

You Yi Hong It is refreshing to know that someone is more interested in cardio rather than resistance training. This is quite rare nowadays due to the advent of fitness fads such as crossfit. Spinning and swimming are a great way to shape up. As for swimming, it almost exclusively uses concentric contractions. For your question concerning muscle toning, I would suggest the concentric (conventional lifting) and is...
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Thanks Mark Edmon Tan for sharing the interesting fact with regards to training in gym. I usually will only do some cardio exercise, spinning class, and swimming in gym. Not so familiar with regards muscle toning or resistance training. I would try it once a while but never be consistence to do it. Which will you be recommending for the beginner of trying to tone up the body ?? I always think that “no pain, no ga...
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