Thursday, July 31, 2014

Supramaximal Eccentrics (+38%) on Leg Presses & Calf Raises Pay Off in Form of Extra Strength and Significantly Higher Lean Mass Gains of the Trained Muscles

It goes without saying that you need someone to help you to do eccentric leg presses... well, unless you use one leg to help with the concentric part of the exercise, obviously.
Training techniques have long been heralded as the single best way to increase your gains. These days, however, the discussion on bodybuilding and fitness boards has evolved away from talking about drop sets, singles, staggering and forced reps and towards BCAAs, whey, herbs and antioxidants - in short: People believe they could buy results, they would otherwise have to work for.

Apropos work, the amount of work the subjects in a recent study from the JES Tech, Ilc., Wyle Science and the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston had to perform was not even overtly demanding.
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The study, which was conducted by Kirk L. English, James A. Loehr, Stuart M. C. Lee,
Scott M. Smith and published in the European Journal of Physiology, required the 40 male subjects (34.9  ±  7  years, 80.9  ±  9.8  kg, 178.2 ± 7.1 cm; mean ± SD), who were  free from any orthopedic or other medical conditions, but had not participated in a strength training program for at least 6 months prior to entering the study (only five subjects had any history of strength training), performed a supine leg press and calf press training program 3 days per week for a total study duration of 8 weeks. 
Table 1:  Warm-up and training volume and concentric training intensity (% pre-training 1-rM) during 8 weeks of resistance exercise (Smith. 2014); (a)  the number of warm-up and training sets × repetitions performed was the same for all 3 days of each training week; (b) Warm-up intensity (not shown) progressed in a graded fashion from 50 % 1-rM to the prescribed training intensity (e.g., week 1 high intesity day: warm-up at 50 and 60 % followed by training sets at 64 % 1-rM). Warm-up repetitions decreased with each successive set as intensity increased (e.g., week 8 high intensity day: 8, 6, 6, and 4 repetitions at 50, 64, 73, and 82 % 1-rM, respectively, followed by training sets at 96 %1-rM); (c) rest periods between sets were 1 min (50–70 % 1-rM), 1.5 min (70–80 % 1-rM), 2 min (80–90 % 1-rM), and 2–3 min (90–100 % 1-rM)
The subjects were matched for pre-training leg press (1-rM) and randomly assigned to one of five training groups. concentric training load (% 1-rM) was constant across groups, but within groups, eccentric load was 0, 33, 66, 100, or 138 % of concentric load.  Muscle mass (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry; DXA), strength (1-rM), and BMD (DXA) were measured pre- and post-training. Markers of bone metabolism were assessed pre-, mid- and post-training.

The idea was to analyze the adaptive responses to a uniquely broad range of eccentric to concentric loading "to inform the development of appropriate exercise prescriptions for a range of populations and to guide resistance exercise hardware requirements for exploration spaceflight." (Smith. 2014)... needless to say that you don't have to be an astronaut to benefit from Smith's findings.
Figure 1: Individual and mean (±SE) leg press (left) and calf press (right) strength before and after  8 weeks of training. Asterisk significant difference from pre-  to post-training (P < 0.05); hash significantly different from 0,  33, and 66 % training groups (Smith. 2014)
As you can see in Figure 1, the increase in leg press 1-RM in the 138 % (highest resistance) group (20 ± 4 %) was significantly greater (P < 0.05) than the 0 % (8 ± 3 %), 33 % (8 ± 5 %) and 66 % (8 ± 4 %) groups.

Compared to the 100 % group, on the other hand, using supramaximal weights did not yield a statistically significant advantage (13 ± 6 %; P = 0.15). Still, while all groups, except the 0 % group, increased their 1-RMs (P < 0.05) on the calf press, only the supramaximal training elicited statistically significant leg lean mass gains! So, even if there was only a non-significant strength advantage we are still dealing with an intriguing "mass advantage" of supramaximal eccentrics - an observation that could refuel the debate about the role of muscle damage as a trigger of skeletal muscle hypertrophy.
Figure 2: Changes in body composition, i.e. total body mass, lean mass and leg lean mass, sign. increases only in the 138% group (Smith. 2014)
Bottom line: Statistics inform us that strength-wise (only!) it wouldn't be necessary to use supramaximal weights on the eccentric part of an exercise. Common sense and the exclusive increase in lean leg mass in the 138% group, on the other hand, indicate that it would very well make sense to have a partner assist you during the concentric phase of your leg workouts, in order to torture your self on the eccentric portion. The results, a statistically significant lean mass and a visible strength advantage are unquestionably worth it and certainly more pronounced than the effects of many of the dubious supplements people prefer to talk about on the fitness and bodybuilding boards all over the Internet, these days (discuss the results on Facebook).
References:
  • Smith et al. "Early‑phase musculoskeletal adaptations to different levels of eccentric resistance after 8 weeks of lower body training." European Journal of Physiology (2014). Accepted Manuscript.