I’ll try anything in the gym once. The good things? Twice. Case in point: 2:1’s for muscle growth.
I first saw this method by a group of middle-aged jacked dudes in college. At first, I shook my head is dismay, ignoring the fact that they were jacked because this looked “dumb” and “non-functional.”
Boy, was I ignorant. Thankfully, I learned didn’t yet know everything. So I gave 2:1 training a shot.
Now, I have no qualms saying 2:1 training, or accentuated eccentric training, is the best muscle building method you’ve never tried.
The name alone sounds tricky, complicated, and overwhelming.
So the temptation is to let accentuated eccentrics fall the wayside. But that would be a mistake.
First, I’ll explain what the hell 2:1 accentuated eccentrics are. I’ll break them down step by step, so you understand how they work. Then I’ll show you a bunch of examples to help you kick-start muscle growth into high-gear.
What Are 2:1 Accentuated Eccentrics, Anyway?
Accentuate: To make more prominent. Focus. Emphasize.
Eccentric: The lengthening or a muscle. The negative. The way “down” when lowering the barbell on a bench press.
2:1: A ratio, pronounced “two for one.” Basically, BOGO, or buy one get one for your gains. Sweet deal, right?
Put together, you’re using two limbs to lift a load, then removing one limb and lowering the weight with the other. In other words, both arms lift a weight up, while one arm controls down. Or, both legs lift a weight while one leg controls the eccentric of the rep.
Why They Work
Remember the first time you tried to max out on the bench, kicked your feet in the air, and ended up pinned beneath a loaded bar?
Well, before you muttered “shit” and the fear of god consumed your every thought, you actually controlled the bar down. You had the eccentric strength to control the barbell down, but you couldn’t overcome to weight on the way up. What gives?
Eccentric Strength is Greater Than Concentric Strength
During the yielding phase or the way down, you’re stronger than the concentric or overcoming phase of a lift. Research points to muscles being 1.75x stronger on the way down versus the way up on a lift.
Problem is, rarely do you put twice your concentric max on a bar and lower it under control.
It’s inconvenient, impractical, and for a lot of lifters, a great way to bust your shoulders or fold your spine like origami under a barbell.
This raises the question: how can we maximize the benefits of eccentric strength training in a safe and convenient way?
Answer: 2:1 eccentrics
With 2:1 eccentrics, you’re lifting a weight with two limbs, then removing one before the eccentric, and lowering under control. This means while using a heavier total weight than you could lift concentrically with one limb, you’re able to overload each individual limb with two times the normal load.
By doubling the load on one limb, your body recruits a great number of muscle fibers and fatigues more muscle fibers, triggering greater levels of protein synthesis and muscle growth.
Eccentrics: The Missing Component of Your Training
In my experience, most people are doing 80% of what they need to build a strong, athletic body. They’re eating for performance, getting stronger, and hitting accessory work on their weak points. But something is missing.
It’s my job as their coach to find the 20% holding them back, fix it, and turn them into strong, athletic, and sexy beasts. More often than not, a focus on accentuated eccentrics triggers the desired muscle growth, especially for stubborn muscle groups.
It’s no secret I love explosive training. Jumps, cleans, training explosively makes me bust out my happy dance and while programs like the Power Primer are great for giving you a jacked and athletic body, but they alone aren’t enough for maximal muscle growth.
Only training explosively does activate a ton of muscle fibers, but it minimizes the eccentric component and thus, muscle fiber breakdown and metabolic stress necessary for maximum growth. This means yes, you can get strong and powerful, but without adding focused eccentrics you won’t build the size you’re after.
After explosive and heavy lifting, adding 2:1 accentuated eccentrics takes advantage of greater muscle fiber recruitment. Combining high eccentric stress with greater muscle fiber recruitment gives you the perfect recipe to build more muscle. P.S. want more muscle building tips? Grab our free eBook with 25 Muscle Building tips from the world’s best coaches.
Basically, you’ll get the best of both worlds: explosive athleticism and strength early in your workout to maximize muscle fiber recruitment followed by accentuated eccentrics to maximize metabolic stress for faster muscle growth.
Accentuated Eccentrics Supercharge Muscle Growth
To grow you need a combination of mechanical tension (weight plus time under tension), metabolic stress (the pump), and muscular damage (soreness). 2:1 accentuated eccentrics provide all of these stressors exceptionally well.
Beyond giving you an insane pump, breaking down muscle fibers, and adding tons of mechanical tension, 2:1’s activate the mTOR pathway, the pathway responsible for protein synthesis. 2:1’s the peanut butter to jelly, the meat sauce to spaghetti, and the key to unlocking some wicked gains.
Here are the big keys to muscle growth with 2:1’s.
1.The explosive concentric action tells the nervous system to recruit more muscle fibers than a controlled, slow concentric action. With a greater number of muscle fibers stimulated your potential for muscle growth increases.
2. The slow eccentric action increases mechanical tension and metabolic stress in the muscles. Since a muscle is working for a longer duration, blood can’t enter the muscle, creating a hypoxic environment. Like occlusion training, this raises metabolic stress and increases growth factors like IGF-1, further boosting muscle gains.
3.Using one limb to lower the weight boosts the eccentric load on the working limb by 50%, creating more tension and hitting a high number of muscle fibers.
Numerous studies have found eccentric training beneficial in injury rehabilitation programs for treating tendonitis and tendinosis. 2:1’s may also boost tendon strength to prevent injury in the first place, a big win for training healthy and pain-free.
2:1 Accentuated Eccentric Exercises
I used to be a holier-than-thou hater of machines in the gym. Thankfully, I wised up. Machines and cable systems work exceptionally well with 2:1 techniques.
V-Handle Pull-Down: This will smoke your lower lats and serves as a great hypertrophy booster and excellent exercise to strengthen vertical pulling patterns when learning chin-ups.
2:1 Inverted Row: If you flare your elbows out, you’ll stimulate tons of growth in the traps and rhomboids. Tucking the elbows to your sides hits your lats. Whatever pulling position you choose, you’ll hammer your biceps and forearms with a ton of overload.
Leg Curl: Your calf crosses the ankle and knee and aims in flexing your knee with your foot is dorsiflexed, or pointed “up.” By plantar flexing or pointing your toe down, you’ll crush the hamstring with a ton of overload to trigger new growth.
Leg Extension: Ever notice how 120 lb bikers have tree trunks for legs despite being rail-thin? The quads can handle a ton of tension and volume, making this variation awesome for quad development.
Pistol Squat to Bench: This is not a pure muscle builder, but a great way to build single leg stability and eccentric control. Build the eccentric strength to control your body down with one leg before standing tall with both legs. Once you build strength, progress to a full pistol squat.
Hip Thrust: Use this weighted or unweighted for improved glute recruitment and sweet, sweet, booty gains. Pause at the top, extend one leg and lower under control.
Machine Chest Press: Depending on the machine, use different grips and handles to hit different areas of your chest and avoid over-use movement patterns.
Depending on the equipment available to you, give machine biceps curls and triceps extensions a shot. Beware stress on the elbows.
Machine Row: This is one of the best methods to achieve a 2:1 or 3:1 push-pull balance.
Shoulder Press: Pressing overhead can be a risky proposition. 2:1’s accentuated eccentrics allow you to press heavy overhead and overload the tissues with greater stability in the presence of fatigue compared to dumbbells and barbells.
Dude, so how do we program these?
As an advanced technique, 2:1’s shock your body with more tension and stress than you’re accustomed too, kicking your plateaus in the face. But they’re also demanding and best at the end of a workout. Here’s how to add them.
When: The beginning of your workouts should still be focused on getting stronger and activating a greater number of muscle fibers. So, do your heavy squats, deads, cleans and the like, then finish your workouts with a 2:1 accentuated eccentric for a muscle group trained in the workout. Once you nail these, you won’t have much left in the tank for anything else.
Tempo: Perform and explosive concentric “up” phase, followed by a 5-second eccentric, or down phase. Being explosive on the concentric activates more muscle fibers for growth while lowering under control maximizes total mechanical tension and metabolic stress.
Volume: Since there are such high levels of metabolic stress with 2:1’s, they’re easily overdone. You’ll want to use them at the end of your workout as to not fatigue too many muscle fibers before explosive and strength building exercises which would actually decrease performance. In addition, too much eccentric loading and time under tension creates a ton of muscular damage which if overdone, can lead to decreased performance and training frequency. Start with 3×6-8 reps for a given exercise, measure your recovery, and adapt accordingly.
Short Doses: One of the major reasons 2:1 accentuated eccentrics work well is they’re unfamiliar and “shock” your muscles into growth. Coupled with lots of tension, it’s best to keep 2:1 accentuated eccentrics in four to six-week training blocks, then take them away for at least a month. You’ll keep your training fun and maximize the shock method before your body adapts.
Boost your Calories: Based on my experience and feedback from clients, you’ll be hungrier than a caged lion with 2:1 training. Boost your calories by 200-300 calories on training days to boost recovery and maximize your muscle building. Basically, two light beers, or two bananas and an additional scoop of protein will do the trick.
(TIP: Go with the protein and bananas.)
Whether you’re bored with training or stuck on a stubborn plateau, 2:1’s accentuated eccentrics give you a fun and fresh technique to maximize your gains. Especially if you train primarily with explosive exercises, the time under tension and focus on eccentrics will jump-start muscle growth.
- Use 2:1’s in short, 4-6 week training blocks
- Keep them at the end of your training
- 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps per exercise
- No more than two exercises in a training session
- Boost your calories by 200-300 per 2:1 training day
Want more muscle building tips? Grab our free eBook with 25 Muscle Building tips from the world’s best coaches.
Colliander E. B., Tesch P. A. (1990) Effects of eccentric and concentric muscle actions in resistance training. Acta Physiol. Scand. 140:31–39.
Hather B. M., Tesch P. A., Buchanan P., Dudley G. A. (1991) Influence of eccentric actions on skeletal muscle adaptations to resistance training. Acta Physiol. Scand.143:177–185.