September 2015

Don't run away, see it through

Building up muscles at the gym is often frowned upon. One frequently heard argument is that exercise in the fresh air is more beneficial to the body. Senso editor Szilvia Früh wanted to know whether this biased opinion is justified and put "eccentric power training" to the test. A report on her aha experiences and the elements of surprise.

During a fitness test several months ago, experts advised me to do less endurance training but instead occasionally do some power training. I generously ignored their advice. I then heard about the importance of having strong muscles and eccentric power training, which is said to be more efficient than conventional training sessions. That is why I decided to make an appointment for a trial training session at "Exersuisse".

The exercise with the elephant

At the gym, I ask Dean Unternährer – my instructor for the trial training session – to put together a set of exercises for me on eccentric power training machines. The first exercise trains the back thigh muscles on an eccentric machine. How the method works: during the concentric phase, when I lift the weight, I train the muscles "normally" with conventional weights. During the eccentric phase, when I lower the weight and my muscles could actually "have a rest" , a sensor ensures that the weight setting is increased by 40 percent by way of a tilting mechanism. Dean says that during this phase, the muscles are naturally at their most efficient and can accordingly be put under greater strain. When the weight "tilts", it feels like an elephant is sitting on my thighs. And the most difficult part is I have to do the exercise very slowly (ouch!). I struggle with 30 kilos. Well-trained people, especially men, can lift 100, says Dean. Thanks a lot!

Just don't run away

Now it's time for the front thighs. Dean points out to me that I need to strap myself to this machine. Is he afraid I am going to do a runner? No, strapping myself in helps to stabilise my back. The task is simple: open your legs, keep still, close them – for 90 seconds. That sounds like a piece of cake. However, my thighs are slowly starting to burn like fire and my backside wants to slip away from the seat. Aha, that's why there are straps.

Only 90 seconds

Next station: the machine for tummy muscles. No problem, I think to myself. And off I go: tense your muscles, bend your torso forward under the weight, hold it and back. My stomach muscles start shaking severely under the strain, which is supposed to be a good sign. "Do a few more," says Dean before hurrying over to help a man who needs assistance. Dean is gone for what feels like 100 years and I think about the circumstances Einstein came up with his sentence "time is relative". How true: 90 seconds currently feel like 100 years of loneliness. I also train my back and chest muscles. And I'm relieved when I'm allowed to stop.

45 minutes have passed. I haven't really sweated, but that is the case when walking downhill. Eccentric training is said to be comparable to exactly that: the muscles are constantly "braking" and cannot "have a rest". The next day you have aching muscles as a reward.

Everything shakes

Dean states that after the introductory phase and without an instructor, you can complete the set of exercises in half an hour. Ideally, you should train twice a week. That appears to be realistic for me. However, I would first like to see how my muscles feel.

They make themselves felt shortly after training in a way I cannot ignore. My torso in particular feels tingly. I like the feeling of burning muscles. My biceps and triceps are still shaking hours later when I go to lift a heavy bag. I wonder what they want to tell me? "Give me more" or "leave me alone"? Perhaps I will have to do some more eccentric power training to find out.

Text: Szilvia Früh