Table of Content
Type of Muscle Contractions – A Key to Bodybuilding, Weight Loss, Injury Prevention and Pain Management
Your understanding and use of types of muscle contractions impact your success in losing fat, building muscle, staying fit, or winning at any sport. Your ability to contract your muscles in a balanced way contributes to your long-term pain-free motions and healthy joints.
What is a muscle contraction?
The image of the bulging biceps muscle gives the wrong impression, which can affect the way you workout.
In any bodybuilding pose similar to a biceps pose, you only see one type of contraction. Let’s the record straight.
Muscle contraction happens when the nervous system signal activates the muscle. The muscle length may or may not change in response to that signal.
How types of muscle contractions are there?
The answer is two. One is often used in popular workouts, and the other is often neglected.
Isotonic contractions are what are often used. In this type of contraction, muscle length changes.
What are examples of isotonic muscle contractions?
When you shake hands, the muscles of your forearm shorten and allow you to grip. Stronger forearm muscles create more forceful contractions and a firmer grip.
Walking, running, pullups, biceps curl, squats, burpees, a Tae Kwon Do kick are examples of isotonic muscle contractions.
Isometric contraction is often neglected. In this type of contraction, the muscle length does not change.
What are some examples of isometric muscle contractions?
The most popular is the variations of the plank. Holding a horse stance as you may have seen in martial arts when the star has to stay in a horse stance position for hours is another example.
How many types of isotonic muscle contractions are there?
Isotonic muscle contraction involves a change in muscle length. Muscle length can change in two ways.
Muscles can get shorter during a contraction called concentric. Muscles can also get longer during a contraction called eccentric.
What are examples of concentric muscle contraction?
Ask most children to show you their muscles, and they go into a bodybuilding biceps pose.
Concentric muscle contraction is what you see in bodybuilding poses. Shortening the muscle creates overlapping fibers that bulge. With low levels of fat and no water under the skin, you can see not only the bulge but rippling muscle fibers.
What are examples of eccentric muscle contraction?
During eccentric muscle contractions, muscles lengthen against resistance.
Eccentric muscle contractions are harder to see; you need to think it through.
Let’s use squat as an example.
As you are squatting down, the muscles in front of your legs, your quadriceps, get longer while resisting your body from collapsing.
Without the resistance caused by muscle activation and tension, you collapse. This uncontrolled fall is what you see in a boxing match when one opponent is knocked out.
In a knockout, the punch short circuits the brain, the signals to the muscles to create eccentric contraction are disrupted, and the body collapses.
In a squat, the eccentric contraction controls the body’s descent by allowing the muscles of the front of your leg to lengthen without losing tension.
Let’s look at an example that creates a challenge for those with dysfunctional knees and those who deal with muscle atrophy caused by disease and correlated with age.
Notice that I said caused by injury and disease and correlated with age. While many injuries and diseases cause muscle atrophy that cannot be corrected, the muscle loss in many elderly is caused by disuse that can be fixed.
Dysfunctional knees and muscle atrophy shows up well in walking down a set of stairs.
When you walk down a set of stairs, your quadriceps (the muscles in front of your thighs) lengthen to allow your knee to bend as you step down.
In the same example, when you walk upstairs, the same quadriceps muscles shorten to straighten your knee. This is another example of a concentric contraction.
In going up a set of stairs, you concentrically contract your quadriceps, and in going down a set of stairs, you eccentrically contract them.
Which muscle contraction helps build muscle size?
Another way to think about contractions is motion. You are using isotonic muscle contraction to move. You are using isometric muscle contractions when you resist movement.
In motions, muscle contraction happen together. In the example of going up and down a set of stairs, but what happens if you stop in mid-stride?
Your muscles hold the tension of your weight, but they are neither lengthening nor shortening. Their length remains fixed. This is an example of isometric contraction.
Muscle contractions happen simultaneously. It is close to impossible to have only one type of muscle contraction. Research supports that emphasizing the eccentric phase of a contraction contributes more to building muscle size.
Muscular contractions are the base of every motion-related experience. Your emphasis on each type of contraction determines how your muscles adapt and how they perform.
What is an example of dangerous and popular weight loss muscle contraction?
Often, a person who needs to lose weight lacks enough muscle mass to carry the extra weight. Many popular weight loss programs use plyometric movements. Plyometric movements focus on intense concentric contractions. Think about a squat. In a normal squat, you squat down and then you stand up. In a plyometric squat, you stand up so fast you jump and your feet leave the ground.
What happens when you land? Does the training include a soft landing? Does the training include decent and deceleration management? These questions relate to the eccentric contraction that keeps your joints, your tendons, and your ligaments safe for a plyometric motion. Unfortunately, these questions and the training associated with them are missing from many popular weight loss programs.
It is interesting to note that the missing eccentric contractions from these programs mean that they are not as effective in building muscles either.
What are some disadvantages of imbalanced use of muscle contractions?
Weakness, chronic pain, repetitive injuries caused by imbalanced muscular adaptation have their root in imbalanced training and overuse, underuse, or disuse of one or more types of muscular contractions.
One of the major problems with most sports activities is the repetitive nature of what is required to excel in that sport. Most sports use one of these contractions much more than the other two.
Sport-specific workout customization includes increasing the other two contractions that are usually left out.
When personal workouts are adopted from sports, they too create the same imbalances of that sports. Balancing the types of muscle contractions in your workouts helps your short and long term fitness goals.