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Why Eccentric Training Could Save Your Legs

What eccentric training is, and why it should be a staple of every hiker's training plan

When most of us think about an exercise, we are focused on the concentric portion of the exercise; that is, the shortening of the muscle. Think of this as flexing your bicep during a curl, or standing up and squeezing your quads during a squat.

Oftentimes the opposite motion, the eccentric, is overlooked, but this can be a huge missed opportunity, especially for hikers and trail runners. This is because when we hike or run downhill, we are constantly pounding our legs with controlled eccentric motions in our legs, our muscles stopping and then controlling our body's descent step by step.

This motion, especially over long miles and under a heavy backpack, can be incredibly fatiguing. The eccentric motion, in fact, causes more "tearing" within the muscle than the concentric motion, which is why hikers often complain that it's the downhill, not the uphill, that causes the most pain and soreness in a hike. I myself remember hiking 70+ miles along the AT in the Smoky Mountains over four days, and it was the last day, the day with 14 miles of nothing but downhill hiking, that was one of the toughest hiking days I've experienced on the trail.

So what can you do to train in eccentric movements during your training? Here are a few examples that could play a part in developing eccentric stamina.

Squat on Bench with Single Leg Lowering

Sit down on bench, holding a dumbbell in front of you. Stand up, then place one foot lightly in front of you, heel resting on the ground. Putting all your weight on the other foot, and with hips and shoulders evenly aligned, slowly lower yourself down onto the bench. Repeat 8-12 times per foot.

Single Leg Eccentric Leg Press

On a leg press machine, extend legs, pushing with both legs, then raise one foot off of the machine, and lower yourself down with only the other foot. The weight should be heavy enough so that you cannot push back up with one leg, but light enough that it is relatively easy to do with both legs.

Single Leg Eccentric Calf Raise

On a leg press machine, perform the same movement as above, but this time with just your toes on the machine, legs extended (but not locked out) the entire time, lowering yourself back down with just a single calf muscle.

For videos and pictures of the above exercises, check out our programs in the training programs tab!

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