Saturday, March 14, 2009

Concentric = good, eccentric = bad

Stair climb repeats did a number on my legs. Last night when I went to bed, I felt fine. This morning, I could hardly go down the stairs. Tonight, I don't even want to think about getting out of my chair. I have the worst case of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) I have ever experienced going on right now. Best I can figure, it was going back down the stairs that has caused this. It is strange that I have been riding for going on 12 years and skiing in the mountains all winter, yet I can't go down a few flights of stairs without destroying my legs.

Cycling and skate skiing utilize 100% concentric muscle contraction. This means the muscle shortens under force, where the force developed by the muscle is greater than the force working against it. This would be pushing the pedal down and it moves away from you. Your quadriceps are contracting while this happens. A similar thing happens in skiing when you push off.

Going down stairs is a different beast however. Each time you step down, your legs must decelerate the drop of your body weight. Thus the quadriceps starts contracted, then elongates as the knee bends to absorb the impact. This stretches the muscle while it is under very high force, just the opposite of cycling. Studies show that it is this eccentric contraction that causes DOMS. Studies also show that even a little eccentric conditioning at light effort is enough to ward off DOMS. I must get zero conditioning. When I hiked Mt Chocorua last fall, I had shin splints for a week. Now I destroyed the very muscles I bike and ski with. All of my quad and calf muscles are extremely sensitive to touch, and any eccentric activity is completely off limits until the pain subsides.

I ran up 1120 steps by two's Friday morning. I went down easily one step at a time. I calculated my power output while running up to be 440 Watts, quite modest for one minute efforts. I can do much higher for a minute on the bicycle. But it was the negative wattage, probably on the order of 300W, that killed my legs.

All this makes me wonder if I'm leaving something on the table by not incorporating eccentric activity into my weekly routine. DOMS is not well understood. Many theories exist, some suggest that the primary workhorse fibers are not involved. Maybe eccentric work would not make me faster on the bike but would stave off these unpleasant bouts I go through every time I break out of the narrow training mold I keep myself in. Body builders rely heavily on eccentric contraction to build mass. I believe they call them "negatives." The strongest endurance athletes don't look bulky though. Perhaps Mooky can shed some light on this.

6 comments:

Dave said...

Try a few sets of deep squats with just your body weight on a barbell and call me in the morning. I have noted that some really strong power lifters do not have excessive muscle size but have tremendous speed/power and strength. I wonder if big muscles are a hinderance to athletic performance? Or just a product of training? I can say that my strength training helps my mountainbiking short steep climbs.
And I am sore after a mountain road century. Perhaps if I can continue with my weightlifting I will answer some questions about these things this Summer.
Doug, it's a good thing you were not able to make it out to Skyline Drive but maybe the ride would help the healing by flushing the quads out.

Mookie said...

You know it's funny that you're writing this because I had a feeling this was going to happen to you. I remember summer '07 after I hiked Washington, I could barely walk for over a week! Naturally, all I was doing for training at the time was riding and like you said there is a huge difference between concentric and eccentric exercise.

It was originally thought that the accumulation of lactic acid resulted in DOMS. This didn't make any sense because it was shown that concentric exercise produces more LA than eccentric. And to top it off, the symptoms of DOMS persist even when blood lactate levels have returned to normal.

Concentric exercise involves shortening of the muscle fibers whereas eccentric = lengthening. It is this lengthening in response to external loads (i.e decelerating one's body while walking down stairs) that causes damage to muscle cell membranes. An inflammatory response ensues with the rushing of WBC's to the site of injury (in your case, perhaps swelling in the quads) and the metabolic waste products formed as a result of the body's response create the pain sensation.

The only way to combat is to obviously incorporate some eccentric exercise into your training. But, it is fact that 99.2% of cyclists hate running so I guess you'll have to do some walking lunges or some more hiking.

Steve G. said...

You should rename your blog to Hill Weenie!

It's not a question of concentric v/s eccentric. DOMS is a result of pushing AND pulling your muscles harder than they've been used prior to the soreness. Being a strong narrowly conditioned athlete just makes it harder to do new routines with a beginners attitude.

Whatever you do don't start a functional training routine. Your blog won't be as entertaining.

Hill Junkie said...

Mooky - Brett said the same thing about this happening to me. It happened to him. Do you think he would have warned me? Nooooo! Should've taken the elevator down each time.

Steve - Try Googling eccentric contraction doms. Here is one good explanation. DOMS is highly correlated with eccentric contraction, not so much pushing and pulling harder than before. It is correct that I have not performed "negative power" at this intensity for some time, so in that sense I went way too hard. The last time was Mt Chocorua last fall. I couldn't walk right for a week afterwards.

I think the blog would be full of incessant whining if I started a functional training routine.

jason_ssc1 said...

I have experienced the exact same thing. When I do any kind of extended hike, I'm very sore for a week. I truly believe that it hurts worse than if I had been doing very little exercise of any kind prior to a vigorous hike. It seems the highly trained cyclist is at a severe disadvantage if that's the only type of exercise he's been doing.

I say this because I've done hikes before with little training and not been nearly as sore but at the time I wasn't cycling.

John Bierma said...

I made this mistake starting to run in January. At first no problem then when i got to 4 miles distances i got doms real bad I could barely walk. Its your full body weight force on foot landing that does it. Landing toe down maybbe worse yet.