Muscle contractions are defined by the changes in the length of the muscle during contraction.
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Differentiate among the types of muscle contractions
- Isotonic contractions generate force by changing the length of the muscle and can be concentric contractions or eccentric contractions.
- A concentric contraction causes muscles to shorten, thereby generating force.
- Eccentric contractions cause muscles to elongate in response to a greater opposing force.
- Isometric contractions generate force without changing the length of the muscle.
isometric: Of or involving muscular contraction against resistance in which the length of the muscle remains the same.
isotonic: Of or involving muscular contraction against resistance in which the length of the muscle changes. Antonym is isometric. Isotonic movements are either concentric (working muscle shortens) or eccentric (working muscle lengthens).
concentric: (Of a motion), in the direction of contraction of a muscle. (E.g., extension of the lower arm via the elbow joint while contracting the triceps and other elbow extensor muscles.
eccentric: Against or in the opposite direction of contraction of a muscle. (E.g., flexion of the lower arm (bending of the elbow joint) by an external force while contracting the triceps and other elbow extensor muscles to control that movement.
An example of this in the context of a bench press would be that a yielding isometric would be holding the bar at a given place even though it could be pressed higher, and an overcoming would be pressing the bar up into the safety guards of a squat cage that prevent pushing the bar any higher.
Muscle fiber generates tension through the action of actin and myosin cross-bridge cycling. While under tension, the muscle may lengthen, shorten, or remain the same. Although the term contraction implies shortening, when referring to the muscular system, it means muscle fibers generating tension with the help of motor neurons. Several types of muscle contractions occur and they are defined by the changes in the length of the muscle during contraction.
Isotonic contractions maintain constant tension in the muscle as the muscle changes length. This can occur only when a muscle’s maximal force of contraction exceeds the total load on the muscle. Isotonic muscle contractions can be either concentric (muscle shortens) or eccentric (muscle lengthens).
A concentric contraction is a type of muscle contraction in which the muscles shorten while generating force. This is typical of muscles that contract due to the sliding filament mechanism, and it occurs throughout the muscle. Such contractions also alter the angle of the joints to which the muscles are attached, as they are stimulated to contract according to the sliding filament mechanism.
This occurs throughout the length of the muscle, generating force at the musculo-tendinous junction; causing the muscle to shorten and the angle of the joint to change. For instance, a concentric contraction of the biceps would cause the arm to bend at the elbow as the hand moves from near to the leg to close to the shoulder (a biceps curl). A concentric contraction of the triceps would change the angle of the joint in the opposite direction, straightening the arm and moving the hand toward the leg.
An eccentric contraction results in the elongation of a muscle. Such contractions decelerate the muscle joints (acting as “brakes” to concentric contractions) and can alter the position of the load force. These contractions can be both voluntary and involuntary. During an eccentric contraction, the muscle elongates while under tension due to an opposing force which is greater than the force generated by the muscle. Rather than working to pull a joint in the direction of the muscle contraction, the muscle acts to decelerate the joint at the end of a movement or otherwise control the repositioning of a load.
This can occur involuntarily (when attempting to move a weight too heavy for the muscle to lift) or voluntarily (when the muscle is “smoothing out” a movement). Over the short-term, strength training involving both eccentric and concentric contractions appear to increase muscular strength more than training with concentric contractions alone.
In contrast to isotonic contractions, isometric contractions generate force without changing the length of the muscle . This is typical of muscles found in the hands and forearm: the muscles do not change length, and joints are not moved, so force for grip is sufficient. An example is when the muscles of the hand and forearm grip an object; the joints of the hand do not move, but muscles generate sufficient force to prevent the object from being dropped.