Perform Eccentric Training to Target Fast Twitch Fibres and Build Muscle
Use eccentric-enhanced strength training to target fast twitch fibers and build muscle. Older adults over 40 will benefit from this style of training because it allows you to counter sarcopenia, or the natural age-related muscle loss. I use eccentric training for all age levels and have found it’s highly effective for hypertrophy, gaining strength and power, and building fast twitch muscle fibers.
A new study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise compared the effect of an eccentrically-enhanced resistance training protocol with a traditional training program in older individuals. Training was twice a week for 16 weeks, and the traditional protocol involved two sets of 10 reps at 75 percent of the 1RM using four exercise for the major muscle groups. The eccentric-enhanced training involved a unique training scheme. Participants performed three sets of 10 using a weight of 50 percent of the 1RM. They performed the concentric portion of the lift bilaterally and the eccentric portion unilaterally, alternating between left and right limbs for each repetition and performing five eccentric contractions per limb per set.
The eccentric-enhanced group had greater increases in strength at higher movement speeds, indicating greater fast twitch muscle development. The traditional training group gained strength as well but at slower movement speeds, which is expected because relatively heavy weights and slow speeds were used in the traditional training style. Eccentric training is excellent for this population because the increased strength at fast movement speeds and recruitment of fast-twitch muscle fibers is an advantage when rapid movements of the limbs are necessary, such as when recovering from a stumble or trip.
Additionally, eccentric training is well known for increasing hypertrophy, making it an ideal antidote for age-related muscle loss. This training style was also proven to be better for improving performance on “functional” tests that may be applicable to everyday life such as the speed at which one can walk six meters. The eccentric-enhanced group improved more than the traditional group, while a control group had a significant decline in walking speed on a six-meter walking test. This rapid decline in the control group is surprising because the population was a healthy community-dwelling group that was fairly active. Researchers suggest strength training is critical for older people because without it, there will be a rapid and pronounced functional loss.
There was also evidence of greater muscle hypertrophy in the quadriceps from eccentric-enhanced training than traditional. In fact, the vastus lateralis, one of the quad muscles increased in thickness in the eccentric group only, while the control group had a decrease in the thickness of this muscle, indicating sarcopenia at work.
Of interest, the rating of perceived exertion was lower in the eccentric training group. This is good news for older individuals, anyone who is new to exercise or bored with their workout. Eccentric-enhanced training will provide variability, may combat boredom, and may feel easier if you use the right protocol. But I guarantee you that eccentric-enhanced training isn’t always easier! There are many loading schemes that are extremely challenging, and there is abundant evidence for the benefits of this style for athletic performance gains and strength.