A New Study Says You Should Stop Lifting And Start Lowering - Men's Health Magazine Australia

A New Study Says You Should Stop Lifting And Start Lowering

Science backed evidence suggests that muscle growth mostly occurs while lowering weights rather than raising them.

What’s the hardest part of working out? Lifting heavy weights of course. But that’s the whole point, right? Well, you might not need to lift heavy weights to get ideal results. That might sound like a dream, but there’s real scientific evidence behind an alternative that could change the way we view exercise.

If you struggle to fit a workout into your busy schedule, or you simply aren’t bothered to spend endless excruciating hours in the gym, there’s good news. These new findings suggest you can essentially cut your training routine in half and still get the same results.

Research from Edith Cowan University shows that the muscle contraction made while lowering weights is surprisingly more effective at building muscle than the contraction used when raising weights. This is because the lowering portion of a rep causes eccentric muscle contractions, which are superior for building strength and size. Take that, proponents of the ‘lift it all the way up’ philosophy.  

The team of researchers had three groups of people perform different types of dumbbell curl exercises and measured the results. The focus groups performed exercises that targeted different types of contractions. Group one only lifted weights, group two only lowered them, while group three did both.

The results feel like a slap in the face for everyone that’s ever lifted a weight. Obviously, group three, which lowered and raised weights like any normal gym-goer would, saw an increase in muscle growth. But group one, which strictly raised weights, saw very few improvements. On the other hand, group two, which only lowered weights, did. Not only did group two see an increase in muscle growth, they also experienced the same growth as the group who had basically done twice as much work by raising and lowering.

How can that be? After all those gruelling hours spent trying, and often failing, to lift weights all the way up. One of the study’s authors, Professor Ken Nosaka, had an explanation. “In the case of a dumbbell curl, many people may believe the lifting action provides the most benefit, but we found concentric muscle contractions contributed little to the training effects.”

Now hold on a minute. If raising weights isn’t the best way to gain muscle, why do we bother? The researchers suggest some intriguing alternatives that solve that problem. Obviously, you can’t lower a weight without initially raising it. It’s kind of like that old saying ‘what goes up must come down’ only this time it’s ‘what comes down must first go up’. To mitigate the time and energy expenditure normally used to raise weights, Professor Nosaka recommends using two hands while raising a weight and only one while lowering it.

Sure, you probably won’t look like the coolest guy in the gym, but if this catches on, you’ll not only be a trendsetter, you’ll also save a heap of time. As Professor Nosaka says, “We can be far more efficient in the time we spend exercising and still see significant results.”

Prioritise Eccentric Contractions With These Exercises

Dr Nosaka recommends using two hands to raise a weight and one to lower it. While this will ease the burden of lifting the weight, you’ll have to do everything twice to account for both of your arms or legs. There is another way you can prioritise eccentric contractions in your usual workout routine without making a dramatic shake up. Simply keep the tension going while the weight is on its way down. This way you can activate eccentric contractions in almost every exercise.

It’s easy to drop the weight and let it fall after a particularly tough lift, but remember a full rep isn’t only the lift. You need to maintain tension and ease the weight back down to get the most out of training. Remember this the next time your pumping iron, specifically with the following exercises.

Bicep curls

Lowering weight

The focus exercise of the study is the perfect example of the importance of lowering weights. Don’t just drop the weights, guide them back down and feel the burn. This applies for either dumbbell or barbell curls and all their variations. If you want to build massive biceps, steady lowering is the way to do it.

Overhead extension’s

When performing an overhead extension with a dumbbell, the lift is actually the easy part. You need to carefully lower the weight behind your head because if you don’t, it could cause serious injury. This makes overhead extensions one of the best exercises for focusing on eccentric contractions and is certain to have your triceps on fire.

Front raise

During a front raise, whether using dumbbells, a barbell or a plate, control is key. Make sure not to swing the weights up and control them on the way down. Don’t get this exercise confused with kettlebell swings, front raises require a firm stance and steady form to target shoulders and chest.

Leg curls

There’s no rush when it comes to leg curls. They are specifically designed to optimise tension while lowering the weight. So, don’t just flick the weight up and let it drop. Hold the tension and control it for maximum gains.

Calf raises

We’ve all seen someone pumping out calf raises at a pace of 100 reps per minute, maybe we’ve even been that person, but slow and steady win’s the proverbial race when it comes to this calf burner. Most of the muscle growth actually comes from the calf lengthening during the eccentric contraction caused on the way down.

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

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