Eccentric vs Concentric Squat: What’s The Difference?

the differences between the eccentric vs concentric squat

In your pursuit of strength gain, every tool can have its place — tempo work is no exception. However, many lifters struggle in knowing what type of tempo to incorporate and what contraction to emphasize.

So, what are the differences between the eccentric vs concentric squat? Eccentric squats deliberately slow the descending phase of the squat, mostly for injury rehab or to apply an overload stimulus. Concentric squats purposefully slow the ascending component, to strengthen weak muscle groups or to offload fatigue.  Both the eccentric and concentric squat can improve technique.

The biggest takeaway that you need to know are the squat variations that target the eccentric or concentric range of motion in the squat. When you know how to implement these variations into your program, and why you should be doing them, you’ll automatically increase both your strength and technique in the squat

Let’s get started!

Eccentric vs Concentric Squat: Definitions

Just so we’re on the same page, here is what defines an eccentric and concentric squat: 

What Is An Eccentric Squat?

An eccentric squat is when the eccentric (descending) phase of the squat is targeted, usually by slowing down the tempo and/or adding more load than the lifter can normally handle.  Eccentric squats involve a phase where the muscles are lengthening.

Eccentric training is a type of “special method”, which I detail in my article on 10 Special Exercises To Improve Your Powerlifting Movements.

What is A Concentric Squat?

A concentric squat is when the concentric (ascending) phase of the squat is prioritized, typically by slowing down the speed and/or starting the squat from a deadstop in the bottom position.  Concentric squats involve a phase where the muscles are shortening.  

What’s The Difference Between An Eccentric Squat And Concentric Squat?

There are 5 main differences between the eccentric squat and concentric squat: 

1.  Weight Used

the eccentric squat will use heavier weights while the concentric squat will use lighter weights

Eccentric Squat

The eccentric squat will use heavier weights, as muscles are stronger at resisting load while they’re lengthening.

Concentric Squat

The concentric squat will use lighter weights, as muscles are weaker when actively shortening to lift a weight.

2.  Range Of Motion Emphasized

the eccentric squat places a greater emphasis on the descending phase of the squat while the concentric squat places a greater emphasis on the ascending phase of the squat

Eccentric Squat

The eccentric squat places a greater emphasis on the eccentric (descending) phase of the squat, which is when your muscles are actively lengthening.

Concentric Squat

The concentric squat places a greater emphasis on the concentric (ascending) phase of the squat, which is when your muscles are actively shortening.  

3.  Exercise Purpose

the eccentric squat is programmed as a means of injury rehabilitation while the concentric squat is programmed as a means of building the lifter’s strength in the ascending portion of the exercise

Eccentric Squat

The eccentric squat is programmed as a means of injury rehabilitation by forcing the lifter to deliberately slow down the exercise. Additionally, to develop the lifter’s technique during the lowering phase and/or to place an overload stimulus on the body.  

Note: An overload stimulus is when a lifter uses more weight than they normally would be able to do.  In this case, the lifter would be using more weight on the lowering (eccentric) phase of the movement, compared with the up (concentric) phase. We’ll discuss how to accomplish this through specific squat variations below.  

Concentric Squat

The concentric squat is programmed as a means of building the lifter’s strength in the ascending portion of the exercise. That said, it’s regularly used to improve technique deficiencies that tend to occur during the concentric phase (we’ll review some examples below). 

4.  Equipment Needed

concentric squats generally require a power rack with adjustable safety arms compared to eccentric squats which generally make use of weight releasers

Eccentric Squat

Eccentric squats generally make use of weight releasers.  These are hooks that attach to the barbell, which can add more weight to the movement while the lifting is squatting down.

Concentric Squat

Concentric squats generally require two things: a power rack with adjustable safety arms, or stackable boxes/blocks.

5.  Tempo

for concentric squats, the tempo utilized tends to be anywhere between 3-6 seconds in duration for the concentric while during eccentric squats, the most common tempos seen are usually between a 3-6 second contraction

Eccentric Squat

During eccentric squats, the most common tempos seen are usually between a 3-6 second contraction.

Concentric Squat

For concentric squats, the tempo utilized tends to be anywhere between 3-6 seconds in duration for the concentric.

When Should You Do An Eccentric Squat

There are 3 reasons why you should focus on an eccentric squat: 

  • To Decrease Tendinopathy
  • To Develop Technique
  • To Improve Concentrics

To Decrease Tendinopathy

Many lifters have found excellent success using eccentric squat training during their rehabilitation period to decrease tendon pain and restore function. Specifically, tendon pain related to their knees

For example, a study by Kongsgaard and colleagues (2009) found that lifters who did 12 weeks of 3-second eccentric-focused training had better long-term outcomes than those who received corticosteroid injections.

To Develop Technique

For lifters who struggle with their technique during the descending phase of the squat, eccentric squats can work wonders. 

The deliberate practice of spending additional time going through the eccentric contraction helps to dial in a higher level of technique proficiency.

This is especially important for lifters who lose tension in the hole and/or have a hard time controlling the squat bar path, which should be kept over the mid-part of the foot during the entire eccentric phase of the lift.  

To Improve Concentrics

It might seem strange that focusing on the lowering phase of the movement can improve the upward phase as well, but there’s some good evidence to suggest that’s the case, especially when using “weight releasers”. 

Using equipment such as weight releasers can have their place for lifters seeking to improve the speed and power of their concentrics. 

In fact, a study by Merrigan and colleagues (2019) showed that performing just one single repetition with weight releasers at 120% of a lifter’s 1 rep max was able to increase the velocity and power of their concentric loads at 65% of their 1RM.  

In other words, a lifter can improve how fast they move lighter/moderate loads if they spend time overloading the eccentric phase of the movement.  At the end of the day, this helps athletes be more explosive.  

I describe how to do a squat with weight releasers in the next section.

Eccentric Squat Variations (From Beginner To Advanced)

Here are some squat variations that specifically focus on the eccentric range of motion: 

3-0-1 Tempo Squat

The 3-0-1 tempo squat is a barbell squat variation that manipulates the time required for the lifter to descend to the bottom of their squat — making it a 3 second eccentric. While the lowering phase is emphasized, the lifter still must lift the bar up on their own for the concentric.

How to do it

  • Set up a barbell about armpit height in a power rack or squat stands
  • Approach the barbell and grab it as you would for an ordinary back squat
  • Duck under the bar while you step forward, positioning the barbell in its regular place on your back
  • Once the bar is set, adjust your feet so they’re directly underneath you
  • Forcefully stand up to unrack the bar
  • Step back a couple paces, then adjust the width of your feet to set your stance
  • When ready to squat, take a deep breath into your core to brace your midsection
  • Bend at your knees and hips to descend
  • At a consistent speed, take 3 full seconds to lower yourself to the bottom of your squat
  • Don’t pause in the bottom, just drive up explosively

Pro Tips

  • Keep a consistent speed. It’s normal to be stronger during the first half of your eccentric phase, but fight the urge to speed through the second half by accelerating too quickly into the bottom of your squat. A properly executed 3-0-1 tempo squat should maintain the same lowering speed from the start to the bottom position.
     
  • Progress to a 5-0-1 tempo, if needed. Some lifters naturally descend with a 2-3 second eccentric, which means the 3-0-1 tempo squat wouldn’t be different enough to their regular back squat to provide any added benefit. Instead of stubbornly sticking to the 3-0-1 tempo in this case, progress to a 5-0-1 tempo (5 seconds down, no pause, 1 second up) in order to fulfill the intention of this exercise.

Common Mistakes

  • Pausing in the bottom. The 3-0-1 tempo squat only seeks to exaggerate the eccentric phase, so there’s no pause component in this variation. In order to keep your reps and sets consistent, do not pause at the bottom of your squat. It’s okay to catch a bounce (the stretch reflex) in the hole since it naturally occurs — though it will be dampened slightly due to the minimal momentum you’ll have from the lowering phase.

  • Not accelerating upwards. Some lifters accidentally perform the same tempo on the ascending (concentric) portion of the 3-0-1 tempo squat — that’s not the intention here. Remember that you’re only manipulating the lowering phase; there is no pause, and you should accelerate the barbell upwards as fast as you can under control.

Weight Releaser Squat

The weight releaser squat is a barbell squat variation that overloads the eccentric phase using weight rods that disengage at the bottom of the first repetition.  You can check out what weight releasers look like on Rogue Fitness.  

How to do it

  • Set up a barbell about armpit height in a power rack or squat stands
  • Perform your warm-up sets, then load an appropriate weight onto the bar
  • Add the weight releasers, along with a reasonable weight on each one
  • Approach the barbell and grab it as you would for an ordinary back squat
  • Duck under the bar while you step forward, positioning the barbell in its regular place on your back
  • Once the bar is set, adjust your feet so they’re directly underneath you
  • Forcefully stand up to unrack the bar
  • Step back very slowly, remembering that the weight releasers will swing as you move backwards 
  • Adjust the width of your feet to set your stance
  • When ready to squat, take a deep breath into your core to brace your midsection
  • Bend at your knees and hips to descend
  • As you near the bottom, the weight releasers will hit the floor and disengage
  • Once you reach parallel or slightly below, push the floor away to drive up

Pro Tips

  • Start light with additional weight. lifters naturally descend with a 2-3 second eccentric, which means the 3-0-0 tempo squat wouldn’t be different enough to their regular back squat to provide any added benefit. Instead of stubbornly sticking to the 3-0-0 tempo in this case, progress to a 5-0-0 tempo (5 seconds down, no pause, fast as possible up) in order to fulfill the intention of this exercise.

  • Extreme focus on first rep. Since many lifters will often progress to having up to a hundred pounds or more on the weight releasers, you’ll be under a serious amount of weight as you descend. For this reason, you must be extremely focused on absolutely nailing your first repetition. Whether you continue performing additional reps beyond 1 repetition or only stick with singles, just be laser-focused.

Common Mistakes

  • Not setting up the safeties. Since you’ll be able to lift more on the eccentric phase, you’re welcome to load up the weight here. That said, be safe about it — the last thing you want is getting stapled at the bottom of your squat with no way to get out besides dumping the bar off your back. You’re welcome to use safety arms, a couple spotters or suspension straps that attach to the power rack (click to check today’s price on Amazon). If Mike Tuscherer was able to squat 675 pounds with an additional 180 lbs on weight releasers while having the safeties set up, you can too.

  • Dive-bombing your squat. The entire purpose of the weight releasers is to overload the eccentric phase of your squat. If you divebomb your squats (you drop uncontrollably into the bottom) or actively speed up your descend when you use weight releasers, don’t be surprised if this variation doesn’t improve your squat strength. 

When Should You Do A Concentric Squat?

There are 3 reasons why you should focus on a concentric squat:

  • To Strengthen Weak ROM
  • To Develop Technique
  • To Manage Fatigue

To Strengthen Weak ROM

A frequent sticking point for most lifters in the back squat is a few inches above parallel during the ascent. 

At this point, the quads are maximally contracting but the glutes can’t seem to lock-out the weight. 

Performing concentric squat variations — perhaps starting an inch above parallel — will target this weak range of motion to assist with locking out the weight.

To Develop Technique

When lifters find that they’re squatting less inefficiently during their ascent (having knee valgus, back rounding, or hips shooting up) concentric squats can provide a way to correct these deficiencies. 

Spending extra time practicing the concentric phase of their squat while focusing specifically on certain squat cues like, “Knees: forward and out!” can help improve efficiency.

To Manage Fatigue

Since athletes are weaker during the concentric contraction (versus the eccentric), lighter weights must be used when performing concentric squat variations. 

This forced reduction in load allows for relief of some fatigue that a lifter might have built up after a hard training cycle with heavy powerlifting-focused training.

Concentric Squat Variations (from Beginner to Advanced)

Here are some squat variations that specifically focus on the concentric range of motion: 

1-0-3 Tempo Squat

The 1-0-3 tempo squat is a barbell squat variation that has the lifter squat down (with no pause) and lengthens the time under tension during the ascending phase by using a 3 second concentric.

How to do it

  • Set a bar a couple inches below shoulder-height in a set of squat stands or in a power rack
  • Grab the barbell with an overhand grip, beyond shoulder width-apart
  • Step towards the bar and dip underneath it as while maintaining a firm grip
  • Bring your feet directly under your hips and ensure the bar is set comfortably on your back
  • When ready, stand up and clear the hooks by stepping back two paces
  • Adjust the width of your stance to narrow or widen, based on your preference
  • Inhale deeply into your midsection and brace your core outwards
  • Squat down by bending at your knees and leaning forward slightly
  • Continue leaning forward as you reach the bottom of your squat
  • Out of the bottom, immediately slow your speed in order to stand up over the course of 3 full seconds
  • Once you reach a standing position at the top, repeat for the desired amount of reps

Pro Tips

  • The tempo is the only change. While this seems like common-sense, you’d be surprised at how many lifters will prepare for the concentric tempo squat, and inadvertently change another key feature of their technique. Whether it’s a different bar position, squat stance or torso angle, the tempo squat is not the time to experiment with new technique. It might be obvious, but remember to stick with the squat style that has been proven to work for you.
     
  • Catch a light bounce. For some athletes, thinking about catching a gentle bounce in the bottom position encourages them to move at the slow speed required throughout the concentric phase. Remember, too much of a bounce will lead you to speed through the first half of the ascending component — the part where most lifters need to focus on the most.

Common Mistakes

  • Inconsistent ascending speed. When doing the 1-0-3 tempo squat for the first time, it’s very common to see lifters speed through the first half of the concentric at a fast pace. Only once they’re about halfway up, do they remember that they need to proceed slowly through the concentric. Remember that you should ascend through the concentric with a consistent velocity, instead of your ascending phase having significantly different speeds.

  • Forgetting to breathe. Tempo work inherently takes longer than traditional repetitions, as you’re having to slow down a main part of the movement. That said, make sure you’re not holding your breath for more than one full rep at a time. It’s generally best to inhale completely at the top, hold on the descent, then exhale slowly on the ascent, or inhale slowly as you descend and hold your breath through the ascent — breathing out completely at the top of the rep.

Anderson Squat

The Anderson squat is a squat variation that completely eliminates the eccentric component of the first repetition by starting the lifter in the bottom of their squat. Subsequent reps are lowered as fast as possible with an extended pause on the pins or blocks to deaden the stretch reflex.

How to do it

  • If using a power rack, set the safeties so that you begin your squat at parallel or slightly below when the bar is resting across them
  • If using a lifting platform, get enough stackable blocks/boxes that allow you to begin at parallel or slightly below when the bar is loaded
  • When ready, approach the barbell with the bar in front of you
  • Grab the bar and squat down, pushing the bar forward as you descend
  • As the bar rolls forwards on the safeties or boxes, ensure you’ve reached the correct bottom position for your squat
  • Roll the bar backwards and duck your head underneath it
  • Position the barbell on your back in the normal position you’d carry it for a back squat
  • Take a deep breath into your abdomen and brace your core
  • Drive your knees outwards and forcefully push the floor away to stand up
  • Once you reach a standing position, lower the barbell as fast as you can under control
  • Pause for at least 3 seconds to allow the stretch reflex to dissipate, then repeat steps 8-10 to perform additional reps

Pro Tips

  • Use lower reps (<6 reps). Since the Anderson squat is mostly used as a strengthening exercise, it’s recommended that you stay under 6 repetitions per set and focus more on adding weight progressively. Beyond 6 reps/set, you’ll be getting more of a hypertrophy focus due to the higher volume.
     
  • Keep your knees forward. To ensure that you focus on building your quad strength, remember to “stay in your knees”. Keeping your knees forward using this cue is paramount; if you let your knees kick backwards at the start of the Anderson squat, you shift the lifting demands onto your posterior chain. In turn, you’re reducing the potential carryover to your regular squat because of the decreased exercise specificity.

Common Mistakes

  • Lack of kinesthetic awareness. In the Anderson squat, there’s no eccentric component to guide you into the correct bottom position like there is in a pause squat. As a result, you have to find this position entirely with your kinesthetic awareness (knowing where your body is in space), Admittedly, this is a fairly advanced skill; novice lifters should stick to pause squats or tempo squats instead.

  • Not pausing long enough. In order to get the most benefit from the Anderson squat, you must deaden the stretch reflex (the bounce) that naturally occurs in the bottom of the hole. If you don’t pause long enough in the bottom position, you’ll still have elastic energy stored in your muscles — negating the point of this exercise.

Want to learn how to master the pause squat instead? Check out my article on How To Pause Squat (Definitive Guide).

Final Thoughts

When trying to determine whether the eccentric or concentric squat is better for your needs, it helps to consider what your overall training goal is. 

Choose an eccentric squat variation if you need to develop your technique during the descending phase of the squat, you’re injured and require more control during your reps, or you want to overload the eccentric component in hopes of specific neural adaptations.

Choose a concentric squat variation if you require specific technique work during the ascending phase of the lift, or to target a weak range of motion (usually slightly above parallel during the squat).

Ultimately, you should choose the contraction type and corresponding squat variation that gives you the best opportunity of helping you become a better lifter.


About The Author

Kent Nilson

Kent Nilson is an online strength coach, residing in Calgary (AB). When he’s not training, coaching, or volunteering on the platform at powerlifting meets, you’ll likely find Kent drinking coffee or enjoying his next Eggs Benedict. Connect with him on Facebook or Instagram.