- Dr Michael Mosley
- BBC, Series “Just One Thing”
I did something today that I normally don’t do. When I go jogging, I usually run up a hill, but today I walked up it. However, I ran downstairs. And that’s because, as illogical as it sounds, running downhill is probably better for me than running uphill.
What I did is known as eccentric exercise and, despite the name, there is nothing strange about it.
What’s fascinating is that even though it feels easier to go down than up, eccentric exercise is actually important for all sorts of health benefits, including muscle repair and growth, flexibility, and bone density.
Although it may surprise you (it certainly surprised me), the easy part, the one where you’re going down, is actually one of the fastest ways to get stronger.
And it’s not just downhill running, it’s any exercise where you’re lengthening muscle under resistance, like lowering weights after lifting them: when you lift a weight, you’re contracting your arm muscles (that’s concentric exercise); when lowering them, the muscles lengthen.
Extend your muscles in many ways is the most effective part of the exercise.
Done right, eccentric exercises can confer some truly remarkable benefits, from keeping you fit to helping your body continue to burn more calories when you’re done than a seemingly harder workout.
Would you like to try?
If you’re curious, you can try the “sit and stand challenge.”
All you have to do is sit in a chair, just very slowly: take 3-5 seconds. Then stand up on both legs.
If you’re feeling particularly energetic, and have good balance, you can try the sitting up on one leg part.
Repeat at least 10 times a day.
Eccentric exercises are the flip side of many movements you’re already doing, and they’ve been hidden in your exercise regimen all along, like a secret.
You just have to be more aware of them, incorporate them into your routines and ensure that the active muscle works.
But do they really bring significant benefits to your overall health?
In one of my favorite studies people were asked to go up or down the stairs of a 10-story building twice a week Y what they will use the elevator in the other direction.
As expected, both groups saw improvements in many health outcomes, but surprisingly the group that took the elevator up and went down the stairs were fitter: They had significantly greater improvements in resting heart rate, which is a measure of overall health and fitness.
The result was particularly surprising since the heart doesn’t have to work as hard when you’re going down the stairs as it does going up.
Those who walked down the stairs also saw a greater improvement in their insulin sensitivity and blood fat levels.
Eccentric exercise could also be the key to stronger bones and muscles.
In the stair-climbing study, the stair-climbing group had greater improvement in muscle function and bone density than the stair-climbing group.
And, unbelievably, those who went downstairs improved their muscular strength by a 3. 4%more than double the group that climbed the stairs.
A similar result to a 2019 randomized control study, comparing older adults doing traditional exercises with a group doing eccentric exercises, found that the eccentric group showed improvement in 38% in leg strength versus a 8% in the traditional exercise group.
It also reduces the risk of injury and can improve balance, which is very important for general well-being.
Other studies have shown that focusing on the eccentric phase of lifting weights can increase the rate at which calories are burned when the exercise ends.
So for some reason, the part of the exercise that feels easiest actually has the most beneficial impact on the whole… but for what reason?
It’s time to consult an expert about the strange science behind eccentric exercises, one like Tony KayeProfessor of Biomechanics at the University of Northampton, UK.
Why is eccentric exercise so effective?
First of all, because it is easier to do. It is much harder to go uphill than downhill, and yet we are moving the same amount of mass as our body.
The second reason is in the way the muscle works.
It’s simple math that I explain to you with fictitious numbers: let’s say we’re lifting 100 kilos in a squat.
When we get up we use 100 muscle fibers, so each one is being stressed by 1 kilo.
Going down, we use different muscle fibers that are much, much larger and more powerful, so we only use 25 muscle fibers.
Each one of them has to withstand 4 times the load, and that creates much more microscopic damage to the cells of those fibers.
it’s absolutely fascinating what part of the benefit of exercise is the damage provokes: cause microripsand it’s recovery that makes you stronger.
Correct. While it does make us healthier, fitter, etc., exercise itself creates microscopic damage that stimulates hormonal responses, and with nutrition and rest and sleep over the next few days, you rebuild those muscles to a new level. taller and stronger.
Eccentric exercise has been consistently shown to create greater microscopic damage than concentric exercise.
And can it also help you burn more calories?
No, while you’re doing the exercise.
That’s because it causes more microscopic damage, so it forces the body to increase its metabolic rate for the next few days while it repairs itself, therefore the metabolic rate is elevated for an extended period of time.”
What are the benefits as we age?
As we age, we get weaker, the muscles in our arms get smaller, and our bones get weaker as well. And eccentric exercise has repeatedly shown more positive effects on all three than any other type of contraction.
We looked at the effect of eccentric training on young, healthy male soccer players, and it showed dramatic increases in strength.
We then performed the same exercise on older individuals, older than 65 years, some with clinical conditions.
They had very large increases in strength, anywhere from 30 to 50%, and a 10% increase in muscle mass in their quads in just six weeks.
That’s a substantial increase much, much higher than what we would expect from normal exercise.
Another study I did showed a 4x increase in ankle range of motion than traditional stretching.
So it increases flexibility, muscle mass, bone density, strength.
It is a highly effective exercise.
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