What is eccentric walking and why should you try it?

Walking, but make it extra. If you’re all about gentle exercise, here’s how eccentric walking can help you turn your daily walk into a full-body workout.

There is no doubt that regular walking is good for your overall health.

A moderate to intense walk for 30 minutes or more at least five days a week improves heart and lung fitness, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, and goes a long way to helping to manage issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

But if you want to use walking to improve your muscle strength, you will need to change things up a little and introduce some eccentric walking.

It may look a little strange — although that’s not why it is called “eccentric” — but this kind of walking ramps up the health benefits.

What is eccentric walking?

Essentially, eccentric walking or any eccentric exercise refers to the type of muscle contraction that occurs during movement.

Eccentric contractions happen when the muscles in our legs or arms lengthen as we walk down a set of stairs or downhill, when we slowly sit down in a chair, or when we lower a dumbbell after a dumbbell curl.

“Eccentric walking involves adding some lunges while you walk — so taking large steps forward and putting your weight on the front leg gradually as you lunge,” explains Edith Cowan University professor of exercise and sports science professor Ken Nosaka.

“Not everyone can access stairs or a hill to perform eccentric contractions, but lunging can produce the same effect.”

What are the benefits of eccentric walking?

Adding sets of lunges while you walk works the muscles that control the descent — the glutes and quadriceps work harder to control each lunge movement.

Prof Nosaka’s research found this improves muscle size and strength, and balance.

“In our research, we also measured levels of a serum called C1q — increased levels can indicate sarcopenia or loss of muscle mass that happens with ageing,” Prof Nosaka says.

“Levels of C1q decreased after eccentric walking, so this type of exercise may reduce your risk of muscle wasting.”

Consistent eccentric exercise also helps lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, and decreases blood sugar levels.

How to add eccentric walking to you routine

Ease into it

Start with short periods of lunges using your bodyweight as you walk, exercise scientist Dr Danielle Trowell recommends.

“If you’re older, introduce eccentric walking into your routine once or twice a week to begin with,” Dr Trowell, of Deakin University School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, says.

“If you’re more active, you can do it more regularly.”

Aim for 10 a side

Every four or five minutes, do 10 lunges on each side, Dr Trowell says.

“Take big steps, control your body as you lower it to the ground, and then do the same on the other side,” she suggests.

Gradually do more

Over the following weeks, gradually increase the frequency of lunges and the number of lunge steps you take.

For example, the participants in Prof Nosaka’s study began with 20 lunges per day for five days a week; over eight weeks, they increased this to 200 lunges per day.

Listen to your body

“Pay attention to how your body feels,” Dr Trowell says.

“Eccentric walking may increase muscle soreness compared to normal walking, usually a day or two later.”

If you are struggling to walk downstairs or sit down and get up from your chair, don’t introduce lunges again until the soreness has gone, Dr Trowell advises.

“If you feel fine, have a day or two of recovery and then lunge again,” she says.

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Written by Sarah Marinos.