There are many awesome ways to train for size and strength gains. Many of the world’s strongest athletes have used training methods like cluster sets, drop sets and rest-pause sets to blast through training plateaus.
However, the fastest way for advanced athletes to blast through training plateaus is supra-maximal eccentric training.
Supra-maximal eccentric training is an advanced training method where you overload the lowering phase of an exercise with a weight that is more than your 1-rep max. If your best bench press is 300 pounds then you would lower a weight that is anywhere from 305 – 400+ pounds for a supra-maximal eccentric bench press workout.
Most of the time you will have to use special training equipment like weight releasers or eccentric hooks to perform supra-maximal eccentric training. However, there are ways to perform supra-maximal eccentrics in a regular commercial gym if you are creative enough.
Here is Josh Bryant coaching one of his bodybuilding clients through a supra-maximal eccentric bench press workout to build a bigger, stronger chest:
For this workout Josh is using a training tool called “weight releasers.” Weight releasers are giant metal hooks that attach on either side of a barbell. When you reach the bottom position of the bench press the weight releasers fall off so you are only pressing the weight on the barbell back up to lockout.
Weight releasers are such a great tool because you can overload the lowering phase of your exercises with a weight that is greater than your 1-rep max. In other words weight releasers help you perform supra-maximal eccentric training!
I mentioned at the start of this article that supra-maximal eccentric training is THE fastest way for advanced athletes to blast through strength plateaus. I wasn’t exaggerating: supra-maximal eccentric training is THAT good!
One of the reasons eccentric training works so well is it places more tension on your muscle fibers. Researches shows that the eccentric or lowering phase puts up to 30% more tension on your muscles than the concentric or lifting phase of your exercises (1).
And this is just for regular reps with 70-80% of your 1-rep max. When you perform supra-maximal eccentric training with 110-120% of your 1-rep max the tension on your muscle fibers is off the charts! This is important because the more tension you place on your muscle fibers the faster you can build strength and functional hypertrophy.
Just take a look at the following video:
As the athlete lowers the weight down his legs are trembling. This isn’t because he has bad form – it’s because the supra-maximal eccentric weight is putting an unbelievable amount of tension on his leg muscles!
Fortunately there is plenty of research showing that this increased muscle tension from eccentric training helps you build bigger, stronger muscles. There is an overwhelming body of evidence showing that eccentric training builds WAY more strength and muscle mass than concentric contractions (2-3).
In particular the scientific literature shows that eccentric contractions are superior for boosting the cross-sectional area of your muscles (4).
This makes sense. After all, the eccentric phase of an exercise is where most of the actual damage to your muscles takes place.
There is even research showing that eccentric-only reps boost your concentric strength levels faster than traditional reps (5–6)! This means you might be better off just lowering heavy weights under control than performing traditional “up-and-down” reps for getting stronger!
Supra-maximal eccentric training really is one of the best training methods for advanced athletes. Now let’s look at some of the best ways to use this training method in your own workouts.
In my experience here are 5 of the best supra-maximal eccentric training methods:
- Option #1: The 4+2 Method
- Option #2: Multiple Eccentric-Only Reps
- Option #3: Multiple Eccentric-Only Singles
- Option #4: Eccentric Cluster Sets
- Option #5: The 3 Then 1 Method
These supra-maximal eccentric training methods are ranked in order of increasing difficulty. The 4+2 method is a great option if you are new to eccentric training while the 3 then 1 method is for advanced trainees only.
One of the best eccentric training methods is called the 4+2 method. The basic idea of the 4+2 method is to perform 4 regular “up and down” reps, then increase the weight and perform 2 eccentric-only reps. Here is the exact protocol:
The 4+2 Method Protocol
- Step 1: Perform 4 regular reps with your 4-rep max
- Step 2: Increase the weight by 1-40%
- Step 3: Perform 2 eccentric-only reps with an 8-10 second lowering phase
With the 4+2 method you perform steps 1-3 all in a row with as little down-time as possible. The amount of weight you add for your eccentric-only reps depends on your eccentric strength levels.
If you have a lot of experience with eccentric training then you could easily add as much as 15-40% to the exercise which means these would be true eccentric-only reps. If you are new to eccentric training then you are probably better off adding 1-15% for these eccentric-only reps.
Here is a great demonstration of the 4+2 method on the dumbbell concentration curl:
The athlete should have used an 8-10 second lowering phase on the 2 eccentric-only reps but otherwise this is a perfect demonstration. The 4+2 method is so effective because it gives you the best of both worlds: regular reps AND supra-maximal eccentric reps all in one extended set.
The heavy eccentric-only reps let you overload your eccentric strength levels after exhausting your concentric strength levels. The strength coach Charles Poliquin says the 4+2 method is the best training method for boosting functional hypertrophy and a great way to build maximal strength.
Here is a sample 4+2 arm workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
The 4+2 Method Arm Routine
- A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3-5 x 4**, 4/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
- A2: Concentration curl, 3-5 x 4**, 4/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
- B1: 30 degree incline DB extension, 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
- B2: Standing cable reverse curl, 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
**Performed using the 4+2 method. Perform 4 regular repetitions, then increase the weight by 5-20% and perform 2 extra eccentric-only reps with a 10-second lowering speed.
Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.
The 4+2 method is an awesome way to train. The biggest downside to this training method is it can be hard to safely perform the eccentric-only reps in a regular commercial gym. One way to get around this problem is to use weight releasers and 2 well-trained spotters.
After you perform your first 4 reps the spotters add the weight releasers to either side of the barbell so you can perform your eccentric-only reps. Once you reach the bottom position of the exercise and the weight releasers fall off your spotters help you lift the weight back up to lockout. Rinse and repeat for the second eccentric rep.
Another option that I really like is to use exercises where you can safely “skip” the concentric range of the exercise for your 2 eccentric-only reps.
Dips is a perfect example of this. For the eccentric reps you just stand up on the dipping platform and lower yourself down to the bottom position over 8-10 seconds. Then you let your feet hit the ground, stand up on the dipping platform and perform your next eccentric-only rep.
One-arm bicep curls also work really well: you can use your non-working arm to hoist the weight up to lockout before you lower the weight down over 8-10 seconds.
Another great supramaximal eccentric training method is the multiple eccentric-only reps method. The basic idea is to perform 4-6 eccentric-only reps with an 8-10 second lowering phase on every rep. Here is a great demonstration of this training method on chin ups:
The athlete in this video steps up on an adjustable bench to “skip” the concentric range of the exercise. Then she lowers herself down over 10 seconds to eccentrically overload her upper back and bicep muscles.
The really cool thing about this technique is you can perform multiple eccentric-only reps with a weight that is more than your one-rep max. These supra-maximal eccentric reps are ridiculously effective for stimulating growth in your fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Just think about it: you are performing multiple reps with a weight that is more than your 1-rep max! You are also accumulating an INSANE amount of time under tension per set. If each rep takes 10 seconds to complete then you can easily accumulate 40-60 seconds of time under tension in a single set! Now THAT is a powerful stimulus for size and strength gains!
Here is what a typical eccentric-only chin ups routine might look like. Check it out:
Multiple Eccentric-Only Reps Back / Biceps Routine
- A1: Eccentric-only chin ups (narrow / supinated grip), 4 x 4-6, 8/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
- B1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 2 minutes rest
- C1: 60 degree incline cable curl, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/2/0, 2 minutes rest
Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1.
As you can see this is a lower-volume routine. The multiple eccentric only singles method creates a ton of muscle damage so you have to be very careful with how much training volume you use. If you use too much volume then it will be impossible to recover and you will not make any progress with this method.
The multiple eccentric-only reps method is a very powerful way to train. It works ridiculously well for building functional hypertrophy and it is also very effective for boosting maximal strength. However, if you are serious about getting as strong as possible then there are more effective ways to use supra-maximal eccentric training.
In the rest of this article we are going to cover eccentric cluster sets and 2 different ways to perform eccentric-only singles. I must warn you that these are extreme training methods and should only be used by advanced athletes. You need to have extensive experience with eccentric training before you even think about using these advanced methods!
One of the most powerful eccentric training methods ever invented is called “eccentric cluster sets.” Eccentric cluster sets are a hybrid of two powerful training methods:
If you have never heard of cluster sets then I recommend you read my article “Cluster Sets: The Ultimate Guide!” Cluster sets is a training method where you perform multiple reps with short rest breaks in between each rep.
With eccentric cluster sets you are going to perform sets of 5 reps with 30 seconds rest in between each rep. For example:
Eccentric Cluster Sets Training Protocol
- Perform rep #1, then rest 30 seconds while re-racking the weight releasers
- Perform rep #2, then rest 30 seconds while re-racking the weight releasers
- Perform rep #3, then rest 30 seconds while re-racking the weight releasers
- Perform rep #4, then rest 30 seconds while re-racking the weight releasers
- Perform rep #5, then rest 3-6 minutes and perform your next set!
Here is one of Christian Thibadeau’s athletes giving a perfect demonstration of eccentric cluster sets on the bench press:
As you can see the athlete performs 5 reps per set with 30 seconds rest in between each rep.
These 30-second rest periods give your muscles just enough time to rest so they can apply maximum force on every rep. They also give you enough time to reload the weight releasers onto the bar in between each rep. You don’t have to use weight releasers with this training method.
For example you could easily perform an eccentric cluster sets arm routine with one-arm preacher curls and dips. However, the 30-second rest periods mean that weight releasers are an excellent choice.
Here is an upper body eccentric cluster sets routine that you may want to try. Check it out:
Eccentric Cluster Sets Upper Body Routine
- A1: Bench press with weight releasers (competition grip)**, 5 x 5****, 8/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Subscapularis pull ups, 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: 30 degree Poliquin fly, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 75 seconds rest
- B2: T-bar row, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1, 75 seconds rest
This workout uses antagonistic supersets to give you more time to rest in between your sets of bench presses. This isn’t required and you could easily structure an eccentric cluster sets routine with regular “straight sets” where you perform your 1st set of bench presses, rest 2-4 minutes, perform your second set of bench presses and so on.
However, antagonistic supersets are a great choice whenever you are using an extreme training method like eccentric clusters. This training method is very demanding so the extra rest in between sets for each exercise is extremely helpful.
If you want to get as strong as humanly possible then sooner or later you will probably experiment with eccentric-only singles. The idea is simple: you lower a weight that is more than your 1-rep max for a single repetition. Usually you want to lower the weight over 8-10 seconds but some strength coaches have experimented with slightly faster lowering speeds.
Here is Josh Bryant giving a great overview of the eccentric-only singles method:
The eccentric-only singles method is an unbelievably powerful training method. These eccentric-only singles place a ridiculous amount of tension on your fast-twitch muscle fibers which gives you very rapid strength gains.
If you are going to use this training method then it’s very important that you lower the weight under control on each rep. I recommend you use an 8-10 second lowering phase on each rep. No, that was not a typo – you want to lower the weight over 8-10 seconds on all of your singles!
If you cannot lower the weight over 8-10 seconds then it is too heavy. Lowering the weights slowly and under control will keep you safer AND place more tension on your muscles for faster strength gains.
Here is an eccentric only singles squat routine that you may want to try. Check it out:
Eccentric Singles Squat Routine
- A1: Back squat with weight releasers (medium stance / heels flat), 6-8 x 1, 10/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
- B1: 45 degree leg press with bands, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed in), 3 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
- D1: Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlift, 3 x 10-12, 2/1/1/0, 2 minutes rest
Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1.
For this workout I recommend you perform anywhere from 6-8 total singles. The goal for this workout is to perform 6-8 high-quality sets. You do NOT want to “go for broke” and put everything you have into one set. Instead I want each set to be very challenging but slightly submaximal.
For example if you can safely lower 400 pounds over 8-10 seconds then you should try and perform most of your sets in the 360-380 pound range. If you do this correctly then you can expect some of the fastest strength gains of your entire life!
Performing eccentric-only singles is an incredible way to train. However, in my experience there are ways to make this training method even more effective. One of these methods is called the “3 then 1 method.”
The 3 then 1 method is an advanced form of contrast sets training invented by Charles Poliquin. The basic idea is to alternate back and forth between a heavy triple and an eccentric-only single on the squat, bench press or any other major barbell exercise. For example:
- Set #1: Heavy triple
- Set #2: Single with weight releasers
- Set #3: Heavy triple
- Set #4: Single with weight releasers
- Set #5: Heavy triple
- Set #6: Single with weight releasers
Here is Charles Poliquin talking with Marc Bell about how to use the 3 then 1 method in his own training program:
So what’s the point of the 3 then 1 method? Basically this is an advanced form of contrast sets training. The two types of sets “potentiate” your central nervous system so you can lift heavier and heavier weights as you progress through the workout.
The first heavy set of 3 reps primes your central nervous system so you can lift more weight on your eccentric singles. Then the eccentric singles forces your body to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible which improves your force output on your next set of 3 reps. The 3 then 1 method is just a ridiculously effective way to train!
Here is a sample 3 then 1 method workout you could use to improve your incline bench press. Check it out:
3 Then 1 Method Chest / Shoulder / Triceps Routine
- A1: 45 degree incline bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
- A2: 45 degree incline bench press with weight releasers (shoulder-width grip)**, 3 x 1, 10/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
- B1: Seated DB overhead press, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
- C1: Dead stop skull crusher, 3 x 8-10, 2/1/1/0, 2 minutes rest
Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise C1.
The 3 then 1 method is a very advanced training method and should only be used by strength athletes with 3-5 years of training experience. If you think you meet this criteria then I highly recommend you give it a shot to improve your squat, bench press, incline bench press or overhead press. You won’t be disappointed!
Supra-maximal eccentric training is a powerful training method that focuses on lowering weights that are more than 100% of your regular 1-rep max. These eccentric-only reps overload your fast-twitch muscle fibers to build strength AND muscle mass at a ridiculously fast pace.
In my experience here are the 5 best supra-maximal eccentric training methods:
- Option #1: The 4+2 Method
- Option #2: Multiple Eccentric-Only Reps
- Option #3: Multiple Eccentric-Only Singles
- Option #4: Eccentric Cluster Sets
- Option #5: The 3 Then 1 Method
My personal favorites are the 4+2 method, eccentric cluster sets and the 3 then 1 method. I think you will be shocked at how effective they are for building strength and functional hypertrophy. If you want to learn more about eccentric training then check out the following articles:
- Eccentric Training: The Ultimate Guide!
- The Science Of Eccentric Training!
- The 11 Greatest Eccentric Training Methods!
- Weight Releasers: The Ultimate Guide!
Skipping these articles is like Ron Burgundy drinking milk on a hot summer day. It’s a bad choice! So what are you waiting for? There is no time like the present to use supra-maximal eccentric training to blast through your size and strength plateaus!
“Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
- Hoppeler H., Herzog W. (2014). Eccentric exercise: many questions unanswered. J. Appl. Physiol. 116 405–406.
- Reeves N. D., Maganaris C. N., Longo S., Narici M. V. (2009). Differential adaptations to eccentric versus conventional resistance training in older humans. Exp. Physiol. 94 825–833. 10.1113/expphysiol.2009.046599
- Roig M., O’Brien K., Kirk G., Murray R., McKinnon P., Shadgan B., et al. (2009). The effects of eccentric versus concentric resistance training on muscle strength and mass in healthy adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Br. J. Sports Med. 43 556–568. 10.1136/bjsm.2008.051417
- Julian V., Thivel D., Costes F., Touron J., Boirie Y., Pereira B., et al. (2018). Eccentric training improves body composition by inducing mechanical and metabolic adaptations: a promising approach for overweight and obese individuals. Front. Physiol. 9:1013. 10.3389/fphys.2018.01013
- Vikne H., Refsnes P. E., Ekmark M., Medbo J. I., Gundersen V., Gundersen K. (2006). Muscular performance after concentric and eccentric exercise in trained men. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 38 1770–1781.
- Douglas J., Pearson S., Ross A., McGuigan M. (2017). Chronic adaptations to eccentric training: a systematic review. Sports Med. 47 17–41.
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