What is Concentric Muscle Contraction?

Learn About How One of the Most Common Muscle Contractions Work

A bicep curl exercise.
A bicep curl exercise. Christopher Futcher/Getty Images

A concentric muscle contraction is a type of muscle activation that increases tension on a muscle as it shortens. Concentric contractions are the most common types of muscle activation athletes perform in a gym when lifting weights.

For example, a concentric contraction of the bicep occurs when the arm holding a weight is lifted from the full-extended (downward) position by the leg, up to the shoulder area.

During the motion of lifting the weight from the leg to the shoulder, contraction occurs, and the process of muscle building and development occurs.

Exercises That Cause Concentric Contractions

Weight lifting is commonly associated with concentric muscle contractions. Concentric contractions are a central aspect to the growth and development of muscle.

Common exercises that cause concentric contractions include the lifting phase of a bicep curl, a squat or a pull-up. Running uphill or climbing stairs also causes the quadriceps to contract concentrically. Concentric contractions are common to many sports in which you need to generate a lot of power or explosive force.

Concerns with Concentric Muscle Contractions

While concentric muscle contractions are central to building strength, wear and tear on joints is an extreme concern when it comes to repeated concentric muscle contractions. In isometric muscle contractions, the stress placed on joints is minimal, as there is no actual movement at the joints.

Concentric muscle contractions call for much joint movement, often repeatedly when weight lighting exercises are performed. These repeated contractions, and thus wear on the joints can build up and lead to joint issues and problems over time. Isometric exercises are recommended for individuals looking to rehabilitate, or simply looking to extend their joint longevity.

Other Types of Muscle Contraction

A concentric muscle contraction is one of the three types of muscle contractions, which are also known as muscle fiber activations. These occur when a muscle fiber or group of fibers is signaled by the brain via nerves to activate and increase the tension within the muscle. The actual contraction of the muscle occurs within very small structures called myofibrils, within the bundles of muscle's fibers.

There are three ways that a muscle fiber can be activated. A concentric muscle contraction is one of the three potential types of muscle contractions.The other two types of muscle contractions are eccentric muscle contractions and isometric muscle contractions. These other types of contractions are described briefly below:

  • Eccentric Muscle Contraction: During eccentric muscle contractions, the muscle fibers are stretched out. The muscle returns to the starting position of the exercise during eccentric contractions, such as a fully-extended arm.
  • Isometric Muscle Contraction: Isometric contractions do not cause any joint movement. An example is pushing against a wall. In such a situation, there is no lengthening or contraction of muscles. For this reason, isometric exercises are typically utilized in rehab programs, as the tension applied to the muscle remains consistent throughout the exercises, which can help a muscle to develop.

    Also Known As: A concentric muscle contraction is also commonly referred to as a muscle shortening.

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