Bodyweight Eccentric Overload For Strength & Size
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Research has proven time and again that eccentric overload is one of the most potent forms of training not only for building incredible levels of functional strength and hypertrophy but also for injury prevention. It’s for this reason I’ve posted numerous articles and methods over the years that highlight unique but effective protocols to take advantage of eccentric overload including the Power Rack Eccentric Potentiation Method, BANA 2:1 Method, Compound Isolation Movements, Biomechanical Drop Rep, Eccentric Accentuated Push Press, Landmine Negative Training, Table Top Squeeze Press, and more. Each of these allows the lifter to handle substantially more load during the eccentric phase of the exercise. This has been scientifically proven to produce incredible improvements in strength and size as the muscles can handle 25-35% more load during the eccentric phase of the movement.
While all of the above movements are incredibly effective free weight variations of eccentric training, few of them involve traditional bodyweight movements such as pushups, pullups, dips, and inverted rows. These particular bodyweight exercises are oftentimes the most natural and comfortable for many folks making them very conducive for eccentrically overloading in a safe and comfortable fashion. Here are my favorite ways to eccentrically overload traditional bodyweight movements.
On a side note, if you’re looking for a training program that includes all of these unique movements and more? Check out our daily member workouts TRAINING REDEFINED.
Partner Assisted Eccentric Overload
Perhaps the most simple method for applying eccentric overload to traditional bodyweight movements is having a partner help you with eccentric potentiation reps as shown here by NFL athlete Michael Montero.
The total weight on the eccentric phase (bodyweight included) is just over 500 lbs. while the concentric phase is slightly over 400 lbs. (external loading on the eccentric phase is well over 200 lbs and the concentric phase is 135 lbs.).
This is quite similar to the power rack eccentric potentiation protocol I use for bench press and squats only applied to pushups. As a recap, the PREP technique simply involves lowering a supramaximal load on the negative phase to pins set in a power rack, then having training partners strip weight off to allow a lighter and more explosive concentric phase to occur. This technique can be applied almost identically to the pushups by having a partner place a dumbbell, kettlebell, or sandbag on your back during the negative phase of the pushup then immediately pulling that weight off to allow powerful completion of the concentric phase. This does wonders for building functional strength and size.
When it comes to maximizing size and muscular development, the key is to take advantage of all three key mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy, namely mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress. However mechanical tension and muscle damage are arguably the most important mechanisms as these are the ones that involve overloading the fast twitch muscle fibers which have the greatest potential for strength and size gains.
To exploit the muscle damage and mechanical tension factors, one of the most effective methods you can employ is heavy negatives. This is commonly done on heavy barbell movements like flat bench press however it’s just as effective when applied to pushups. In fact by applying the concept to pushups, not only are the chest, shoulders, and triceps crushed, but the core and spinal stabilizers get pummeled as you’re essentially holding an incredibly heavy plank.
Familiarizing the nervous system with supramaximal loads (greater than 1 RM loads) as shown here, also does wonders for increasing functional strength. That means more size through myofibrillar hypertrophy. In addition heavy overload typically maximizes the testosterone response associated with strength training.
Lastly there’s a significant potentiation response here (as well as in many of the exercises in this article) as your CNS is hyper activated from the supramaximal negatives. As a result the deloaded concentric phase feels inordinately light causing the lifter to produce significant power output when driving back to the starting position. If you’re looking for a training method that helps maximize power output, strength , and size all at once these are tough to beat.
If you really want to increase the difficulty of the movement and wake up additional stabilizers, try performing this same protocol on rings or suspensions straps (TRX) as I have NFL athlete Marquell Beckwith doing here.
Partner Assisted Negative Pullups
The same partner assisted eccentric potentiation protocol discussed above for eccentric overload pushups can also be performed on pullups as 2 of my NFL athletes Marquell Beckwith and Marcelis Branch demonstrate here. Although there are a few ways to accomplish this I’ve found that the knee flexion method using a plate placed onto the back of the legs/calves is the most conducive for loading and deloading the weight each repetition.
Besides crushing the lats, upper back, and biceps with supramaximal loading these also torch the hamstrings making them a brutally effective functional strength and hypertrophy exercise for the entire posterior chain. Don’t be surprised if the first few reps the lifter experiences greater power output and strength than normal on the concentric phase due to the hyper-activation and potentiation response produced from the supramaximal negative phase.
Partner Assisted Inverted Rows
The partner assisted eccentric potentiation is also incredibly effective when applied to inverted rows as I have one of my awesome figure athletes Leslie Petch demonstrating here.
Besides being an exceptionally effective strength and hypertrophy exercise for the entire posterior chain including the upper back, lats, glutes, and hamstrings, these also do wonders for spinal alignment and posture.
Band Resisted Eccentric Overload Pullups
By strategically using band resistance we can eccentrically overload pullups and dips by incorporating supramaximal loading (greater than 1RM). Simply anchor your feet under a light to moderate resistance band then use a basic knee raise to strategically alter the tension of bands so that it provides more resistance during the eccentric phase of the exercise. Here I demonstrate this using double band resistance while my awesome client and national figure competitor Leslie Petch uses single band resistance (this represents a simple yet effective way to alter the resistance/tension without having to change the setup or replace the bands).
This provides significantly greater load and tension during the eccentric phase of the exercise compared to the concentric phase. For instance during these pullups I would be unable to hold a knee raise position and perform pullups with that specific amount of band tension. In other words it was a supramaximal load (greater than my 1RM). However, because you’re approximately 25-35% stronger during the eccentric phase, performing the eccentric movement with the added tension, while incredibly challenging was in fact manageable. As an added bonus these absolutely blast the core and abs not to mention the anterior tibialis (shin muscles) since you’ll be holding the ankles in dorsiflexed position while resisting plantarflexion.
It should also be noted that the knee raise position in general (even without additional load) is a much more challenging pullup variation as most individuals will have to reduce the load by at least 10-15% to perform these. With that said, a degree of eccentric overload could be applied to this exact same pullup protocol without the use of bands as simply moving into the knee raise on the eccentric phase will provide slight additional eccentric tension that the lifter might not be able to handle on the concentric.
Lastly some individuals might be concerned that because the bands are more stretched at the top of the pullup and lighter at the bottom, this would negatively impact the eccentric overload component since the bottom of the movement would arguably not be as overloaded as the top. Here’s why this is not an issue and in fact is quite ideal for this particular protocol.
The knee raise pullup protocol (which will be used only on the eccentric phase) is quite unique in that pulling the hips into a more flexed position places greater stretch and tension on the entire posterior chain including the upper back and lats. As a result of the added stretch produced from hip flexion, when combined with the very bottom of the pullup, i.e. when the lats and upper back are stretched even further, the degree of difficulty is incredibly high as the muscles are in a slightly weaker and more lengthened state than they would normally pull from. In contrast the top of the knee flexion pullup feels substantially easier than the bottom. Fortunately the accommodating resistance produced from the band tension provides just the perfect strength curve to match the unique nature of the knee flexion pullup position. In other words, even though the bands will be less tense at the bottom of the pullup this will be offset by the inordinately difficult bottom position that results from the knee flexion pullup.
Dips with Band Resisted Eccentric Overload
Similar to the pullups above, the band resisted eccentric overload method using a strategically timed knee raise can also be applied to dips. Simply perform the concentric phase with a straight leg position and the eccentric phase with the more difficult and loaded (i.e. increased band tension) knee flexion position.
Just as with the pullups this allows the implementation of supramaximal loading on the eccentric phase of the exercise. For instance I was unable to perform even 1 concentric dip using the hip flexion position with this particular band setup. However it was the ideal tension for implementing eccentric overload with supramaximal weight.
As an added bonus the bands provide accommodating resistance thereby reducing tension in the more difficult bottom position of the exercise while also overloading the stronger top position. This combination crushes the chest, shoulders, and triceps, with inordinately high levels of tension, overload, and metabolic stress while also minimizing stress to the joints and connective tissue.
Inverted Row and Hip Thrust with Band Eccentric Overload
Although this looks a bit complex, this inverted row with eccentric overload is quite simple. The lifter simply uses a strategically timed hip thrust to increase the band tension and overload effect during the stronger eccentric phase of the exercise. This allows the lifter to absolutely blast the upper back and lats using self-assisted eccentric overload in a safe and effective fashion. For instance, in this particular setup when the hips are elevated it provides approximately 150-200 pounds of additional tension, a load I normally couldn’t handle.
I actually tried performing traditional inverted rows with the hips high throughout and was unable to complete even one repetition as the tension was too high. Simply put, this represents a supramaximal load for my body (greater than my 1RM) that I was only able to handle during the stronger eccentric phase, not the concentric. As an added bonus these also devastate the glutes and hamstrings as the amount of tension throughout the entire posterior chain particularly during the eccentric phase (when the hips are elevated) is incredibly high.
Lower Body Variations
When it comes to applying eccentric overload to legs, this can be a bit tricky especially when it comes to squats. However, one unique method I frequently incorporate with my athletes to safely and effectively apply eccentric overload to lower body compound movements such as squats, lunges and deadlifts is the BANA. The BANA (bilateral assisted negative accentuated) method also known as the eccentric accentuated 2:1 method (i.e. up with 2, down with 1) is one of my favorite eccentric overload methods. Not only does it produce incredible gains in functional strength and hypertrophy, it also very effectively targets each limb individually during the eccentric portion of the lift as shown here by several of my NFL athletes.
Essentially what you’re doing is performing the concentric phase of the lift with 2 limbs and the eccentric phase with 1 limb thereby providing greater eccentric overload during that eccentric or negative movement. Unfortunately, this technique is often limited to machines (i.e. leg extensions, leg curls, and leg press) especially when it comes to lower body training. However by strategically applying this method to the biomechanical drop rep protocol (similar to biomechanical drop sets except the adjustment happens mid rep rather than mid set) we can just as effectively apply this method to lower body compound movements. Here’s what I mean.
We can essentially break down lower body movements particularly squat and deadlift-related exercises into 3 categories namely single leg squats, single leg supported squats (i.e. split stance and kick stand squats) and, finally, traditional bilateral squats and deadlifts. By categorizing these into tiers of movements based on level of difficulty we can make several inferences regarding the loading of each movement in comparison to the others.
For instance most lifters can handle at least 25-30% more total loading on traditional bilateral squats and deadlifts in comparison to their split stance and kickstand counterparts. Furthermore, most individuals can also handle at least 25-30% more total loading on split stance and kickstand movements in comparison to single leg squats and single leg deadlifts.
Additionally, most individuals can handle 25-30% more loading on the eccentric phase of an exercise than they can on the concentric phase.
Once we fully comprehend these various components we can easily apply the BANA eccentric accentuated 2:1 to most lower body movements. Simply chose a movement that’s 25-30% stronger on the concentric phase (i.e. bilateral squat) while simultaneously selecting a unilateral movement that’s 25-30% more difficult on the eccentric phase. In other words each repetition will be a biomechanical drop rep where the eccentric and concentric phases of the movement are biomechanically adjusted to produce maximal muscular overload.
Besides producing extreme eccentric overload, an added bonus of these is that they also provide a very knee friendly method for performing single leg squats. Single leg squats are notorious for being tough on the knee joint. However the knee tension is predominately created from the concentric phase of the movement, not the eccentric phase. In fact, the eccentric phase is typically quite therapeutic on the knees not to mention the rest of the body. Fortunately the BANA method resolves this issue altogether as single leg squatting is only applied to the eccentric phase, not the concentric.
There are near limitless combinations of BANA squat exercises. Check them out in my full article here.
Glute Bridges and Leg Curls
The BANA 2:1 method is also very convenient for applying to glute bridges and leg curls. The slide-board band resisted single leg eccentric leg curl provides the ultimate combination for eccentrically overloading the posterior chain in a functional manner as shown by my awesome client Leslie.
With that said, this is a highly advanced variation that pulverizes the hamstrings as well as the glutes. Before progressing to this variation I recommend starting with single leg eccentric accentuated without bands, then double leg with bands then eventually the single leg eccentric band variation Leslie shows here.
I also recommend super-setting these with a single leg hip hinge exercise such as an eccentric isometric single leg RDL as these will help prevent cramping in the hamstrings which will likely occur form the intense contractions of the slide-board leg curl. On a side not, focus on keeping your toes perfectly straight as proper foot and ankle alignment is critical during glute bridges, legs curls, and hip thrusts as it maximizes muscle activation and minimizes compensation patterns and energy leaks.
Learn more about the dozens of other slide-board exercises I program in my full length article here.
Althoug the BANA method can be applied to any bodyweight variation I’ve found the pullup to be the most natural of the upper body drills. These can be performed using an assisted pullup machine or band attached to safety squat pins as my awesome client Leslie Petch shows here.
There are several benefits of this method.
1. Essentially you’re pulling yourself up with 2 arms and lowering yourself with one. The goal is to use a load/band assistance that allows moderate loading/tension for the concentric phase (approximately 60-75% 1RM) while also representing a heavy supramaximal eccentric load for the unilateral portion (approximately 120% 1RM for single arm). This provides a unique contrast for stimulating strength and hypertrophy. Essentially the concentric phase is relatively light allowing the lifter to focus on smooth mechanics and text book form with a strong contraction and muscle mind connection in the upper back and lats. However, the unilateral eccentric phase improves maximal strength and recruitment of the highest threshold fast twitch fibers ultimately inducing significant muscle damage and mechanical tension. The result of this concentric-eccentric contrast not only maximizes body mechanics but truly improves size throughout the entire upper back, lats, biceps, and forearms.
2. The bilateral assisted negative accentuated technique also promotes symmetry throughout the upper torso. Most upper body vertical pulling motions involve a bilateral element (pulling with both arms simultaneously) such as pullups and chin-up variations. Inevitably most individuals have one side of their body they tend to pull more from as it’s difficult to detect asymmetrical pulling mechanics on pullup variations. Over time this imbalance tends to become worse as the dominant side becomes stronger and the weaker side can become weaker. Periodically using the BANA protocol not only eliminates hypertrophy imbalances from side to side of the body but it also helps to ensure vertical pulling movements such as pullups and chin-ups stay dialed in with symmetrical activation and motor unit recruitment. In fact, the first time you implement this technique you’ll most likely notice a huge variance between sides with one side being significantly stronger. Several workouts using this eccentric accentuate pullup will do wonders for balancing out these issues.
3. The degree of core activation is unusually high for a vertical pulling movement as each time you release one arm there will be significant anti-rotation and anti-lateral flexion elements attempting to pull your body out of alignment. In fact the movement should feel like a combination single arm pullup, Pallof press, and suitcase carry. To resist these forces the lifter will be forced to dial in their form as well as the core by firing nearly every muscle in their body and focus on staying ridiculously tight. This also helps increase spinal rigidity, which can be incredibly beneficial for increasing strength on a number of exercises including pullups.
As previously mentioned eccentric overload is not only incredibly effective for stimulating functional strength and size but it also creates an immediate potentiation response. As a result they can do wonders for temporarily increasing power output during the concentric phase of any exercise when applied properly. For instance, in this exercise, Julian performs a controlled eccentric isometric pushup then after a 2 sec hold (which creates increased neural potentiation & motor unit recruitment), I take the plate off his back allowing him to explode up with max power.
Besides increasing power on the concentric, it’s also a great way to combine an explosive movement with a hypertrophy-inducing stimulus not to mention injury prevention. Essentially we’re tricking the body by hyper-activating the CNS with the eccentric, ultimately making the concentric feel that much lighter and powerful.
Another benefit is that this hyper-activation & increased neural drive transfers exceptionally well into the catch/landing phase where the lifter has to decelerate their body & absorb the impact of the catch. The extra load on the back also wakes up the core & spinal stabilizers reinforcing the idea of keeping the core tight & locked in on the catch phase which is where most lifters struggle with excessive lumbar extension and loss of tension.
Looking for a training program that includes all of these unique movements and more? Check out our daily member workouts TRAINING REDEFINED.