What is an Eccentric Contraction?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An eccentric contraction is a type of muscle movement where the muscle lengthens as it is put under tension. While the word “contraction” often conjures up an image of a muscle shortening, it is important to note that eccentric contractions involve an extension of the muscle. These types of muscle movements are very common. For athletes, the risk of injury is often higher when muscles are being lengthened in an eccentric contraction. Injuries classified as pulls and strains often involve a muscle that was stretched too far.

Certain types of athletic training require the use of eccentric contractions.
Certain types of athletic training require the use of eccentric contractions.

The purpose of an eccentric contraction is to regulate a movement. The lengthening muscle resists the tension to keep the movement smooth and even. It also protects the joints by controlling the speed, angle, and direction of the movement. Multiple muscles usually work at the same time and can pull in different directions for highly controlled movements.

The risk of injury can be higher for athletes when muscles are lengthened by eccentric contraction.
The risk of injury can be higher for athletes when muscles are lengthened by eccentric contraction.

In a simple example of an eccentric contraction, a person can start with the elbow bent and the hand on the shoulder. When the arm is unfolded to straighten it out, eccentric contractions are occurring to control the movement and prevent the elbow joint from experiencing damage. If these muscles in the arm didn't create some resistance, the arm could snap out and damage the elbow joint. Eccentric contractions can also be seen in activities like walking, where the muscles work to protect the ankle and knee from injury as people complete steps.

People can injure themselves during an eccentric contraction by putting too much strain on a muscle. Weight lifting is a classic example. People who lift weights that are too heavy may strain their muscles as they stretch under resistance. Likewise, deep stretches before someone is fully warmed up can injure muscles that are stretched too far. People can reduce their risk of muscle injuries by warming up thoroughly before exercise and developing tapered workout plans that promote the development of strong, toned muscles over time.

Certain types of athletic training require the use of eccentric contractions. Working muscles in this way tends to help people develop long, even, highly toned muscles. This type of training is accomplished by creating resistance that will stretch the muscles, either with the use of exercise equipment or certain stretches and poses. Pilates is an example of a form of exercise that utilizes eccentric contractions to work the muscles in the body and help them develop strength and tone.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Last Saturday, I went to a dance recital. These were girls from about three to twelve years old. I got a kick out of watching the very young girls do their dances while performing their little antics on the stage - they really cracked me up!

Later, when the older girls started their dances, I noticed one girl who moved exceptionally well. Her group did both a ballet number and a jazz number.

This girls was slender, but you could tell she knew how to extend and lengthen her muscles as she danced. She looked so good as she controlled her speed, made swift foot turns, and extended her arms, legs and head.

I think all kids, boys and girls, should take some dance classes. It's great for developing good posture, toned muscles, body control and self-esteem.

Believe it, or not, some football players take ballet in order to learn to control pivoting and changing direction and I don't know what else!


When I think of an activity that lengthens out the muscles, I usually think of yoga. If done properly, it is a very controlled way of moving and holding positions that lengthen your muscles. It is done slowly and incorporates deep breathing. This all helps to keep you relaxed and in control of your body.

I have taken several yoga classes and after each session, I felt like I had stretched every muscle in my body. It takes time when practicing yoga to get to the point where you start to notice you are beginning to get long, lean muscles in your arms, legs, and abdomen.

And, as a bonus, you get to do some meditation at the same time.

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