Types of Muscle Contractions and The Importance of Being Aware of Them When you Lift


We talk much about all types of muscle contractions here in About Lifting – we talk about concentric contractions, the almighty eccentric contractions, omni contractions, partial contractions, contractions, contractions, contractions! Next time we’ll even talk about uterine contractions!

I realize that it’s high time that we finally go back to basics and discuss the basic types of muscular contractions. Knowing that will give us especially the newbies a great deal of help in structuring training regimens and will clear out any confusion regarding this matter.

I just thought that some of you might go

“WTF! Isometric, eccentric contractions?! What the hell is that!”

since I agree, these terms about contractions could be jargon for most people, and I don’t like jargons to hinder the way lifters learn from About Lifting – hence in this post I will discuss the types of muscular contractions like how we learned them from basic anatomy and physiology.

Isotonic contractions – From the word “iso” means “the same” and “tonic” meaning “tone” which refers to contractions where your muscle shortens but keeps the same relaxed tone. Imagine simply moving your limbs, your arms etc. This requires your muscles to contract but since there is no external weight resistance involved the muscles still keep a relaxed tone – no tension.

This usually happens in the gym whenever the weight you are lifting is too light and at the same time you are not creating conscious effort to tense you muscles; needless to say that these type of contractions do not produce any growth at all.

Isometric contractions – From the word “iso” means “the same” and the word “metric” meaning “length” this refers to the type of contractions where your muscles tense but does not shorten.

The simplest example I can give that demonstrates this type of contraction is whenever you push against an immovable object like for instance – a wall.

This type of contraction can indeed be used to intensify a lift and I recommend that you read our article describing the intensity technique called “Omni contractions” which requires a lifter to apply isometric contractions in the midst of his lift (three times per rep to be exact). One can also train to reach for failure and then when you can no longer complete a single full range rep, just hold the weight at midpoint for as long as he can. That is an example of an “isometric” contraction and how it can be applied to lifting and muscle building.

Concentric contractions (+) – Concentric contractions are basic; this is when you shorten the muscle and at the same time tense the muscle. This is the basic type of contraction that you do when you lift. This is usually referred to as the “positive” part of the rep.

Eccentric contractions (-) – We discuss this type of contraction a lot and we know that this type of contraction causes the most muscular micro-tears which eventually lead to more adaptive growth. An eccentric contraction is when the muscle lengthens (the part where you lower the weight) but still keeps its tension. This is usually referred to as the “negative” part of the rep.

One can eliminate eccentric contractions when he lowers the weight haphazardly or simply drops the weight instead of lowering it carefully – which can lead to injuries and definitely NOT lead to any growth at all! Pure concentric (no eccentric) lifts have a place however in power lifting especially in training for deadlifts wherein a lifter gets in a phase wherein he would use the most weight he can, deadlifts it up then drops the weight to the floor every rep (this might require a specialized flooring system). This gives him more fuel to train his muscles for powerful positive contractions since growth and creating muscle micro tears is not the goal of this regimen and since slowly lowering weights is very taxing indeed.

That’s Eliot Hulse doing power deads, if you watch the video, he simply drops the weight everytime which is the best way to train for power (not growth):

powerlifting deadlifts eliot hulse

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The eccentric part of a lift is very important that is why it is a part of the Ironthumb System for a lifter to lower the weight slowly each and every rep. That kind of manner of lifting leads to most growth due to the immense “time under tension” produced.

So we have covered all the basics regarding the types of contractions and I hope that helps clarify and express the roots and foundations of the Ironthumb system. Please share your thoughts in the comments section. Eat your eggs, people!

A-Lifter- Don't forget to leave your comment/feedback below.  If this article was helpful, I am sure our book Real Talk Muscle will help you even more in your quest for muscle gain. Check it out you can read the first few chapters as well.
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3 thoughts on “Types of Muscle Contractions and The Importance of Being Aware of Them When you Lift

    1. Don’t mention it.
      Deffinitely since use of jargons are sometimes innevitable in discussing bodybuilding since you will touch physiology at certain points

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