As we have discussed in the previous parts of this article, N-gas springs have force characteristics that are different from weights and other types of springs used for resistance. The unique characteristics explained so far have been a result of the gas spring's ability to capture muscular forces as it is compressed, which is half the story. In this part we will detail the characteristics of how muscles are contracting in an eccentric lengthening motion while contracting. The distinctions of what weights do and what the n-gas spring does during this phase is going to be very popular while doing a bit of debunking of long standing myths. The "negative" eccentric phase of the repetition has been far more researched than the "positive" concentric phase for several reasons. One would think that when it comes to muscular contractions and performance, the "lifting" phase of any movement is more important and understanding the benefits of the adaption is of interest. However, the training community and physical culture tends to steer research to things we don't really quite understand and they make up answers to questions if science has yet to prove it. When you find high amounts of philosophies, dogma, and pseudo-science that have no real objective data to rely upon, the quest for truth leads to scientific methods. So what do we know about eccentric contractions now from research?
From the studies conducted with "weights", we have learned some important things that occur during eccentric phase of contractions. Probably the biggest thing we have learned is that the soreness and inflammation that occurs hours later from muscle contractions is from the muscle being elongated by mechanical forces greater than the contraction forces the muscle is generating. At first it was thought that lactate, or lactic acid, was the culprit of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). But with good research and extensive studies, it was found that the two were not cause and effect, but merely associative. The harder one trained, the more lactate, and thus more DOMS it was thought. Very easy to make that assumption since the immediate feel of the "burn" felt similar to the "soreness" experienced later. When you get burnt by something hot you have a sensation that is immediate from the hot "thing" touching your skin, and a blister that has long term pain. So the "thing" must be creating both effects. Not scientific, but large consensus of agreement make it true.
By separating the directional movement work loads with test subjects doing similar exercises, reps, and sets, interesting things were found as one group did the "lifting" phase only, and the other did the "lowering" phase only. It was found that the group that did the lifting phase felt and created more "lactate" burn and far less DOMS, and the group that "lowered" weights only felt little "burn" and created way more DOMS. Many studies later it was determined that the mechanical forces lengthening the muscle while it was signaled to shorten for force generation caused the contractile components to be damaged. This damage was micro tears that led to inflammation, pain, and a host of other cellular functions happening from the damage and repair. Now we know what the DOMS is specifically from, repetitive intense eccentric contractions.
Unfortunately, what was extrapolated was that DOMS was needed to increase muscular strength and growth since repairing the damage was occurring while the muscle healed. Once the muscle healed, it was stronger. Since the harder one exercised, it increased DOMS and also muscular size-strength was associated to it. It was etched in stone when some declared, "You have to tear the muscle down to repair it and make it bigger and stronger". Makes perfect sense doesn't it? It was cemented even further when it was found that small "satellite cells" found in muscle could be 'transformed" into muscle cells under very intense exercise conditions that cause cellular damage. DOMS is cellular damage and now this equals satellite cells turning into muscle. So it is true that DOMS is needed for increased muscle and strength. Or is it? When hardcore "weight training" advocates are confronted with the fact that you don't need to "tear it up, to build it up" they cling to the DOMS-satellite cell pathway to growth. When asked this question, "Why not consider all the studies of that took human subjects and introduced hormonal growth factors (Hgh, steroids, testosterone, and other anabolic substances) to them and the subjects did NOT exercise OR get DOMS and gained muscle mass. How do you explain that?" The DOMS supporters don't know really what to say. Isn't that interesting? The hormone test subjects in the experiments did not get sore (NO DOMS), and they got stronger and without a doubt got more muscle mass. They didn't even exercise! So is DOMS really needed to increase muscle mass and strength? Doesn't seem so.
So let's summarize those two myths. Lactate does not cause DOMS. And DOMS is not needed for increased muscle mass and muscular strength. DOMS does elicit higher hormones for sure. Unfortunately the hormone is cortisol. And research has found that long term high levels of cortisol are definitely NOT GOOD. We will revisit that topic later. Enough about the myths, and to understand what is really going happening, read on.
Intense resistance exercise studies have without question raised the natural hormonal anabolic response in every age, sex, and experience level of human subject tested. And we know for fact that if the hormones are not augmented in an anabolic fashion, muscle and strength are not going to increase. My opinion is if the hormones are not changed and the muscle mass does, then the study is likely flawed. Research has proven over and over that specific hormones or growth factors increase protein synthesis. Studies have shown over and over that the higher the intensity of exercise the higher the lactate. They have even proven that introduction of lactate without exercise increases anabolic growth factors. This recently has increased the creation of new training programs specifically designed to produce high levels of lactate to reflect the science. "Lactic acid Training", "Lactate Threshold Training", " High Intensity Interval Training-HIIT), and host of other named programs are becoming very popular that claim increased lactate production to augment the hormones. It works in the lab, and now we are finding it works in the gym.
So what does this have to do with n-gas springs and why they are better? Remember the graph in Part 1 of the article. Notice you will see two lines. The top one is the compression stroke and has more force. The lower one is the return, or extension force, which has less force. We learned earlier that the compression stroke of the gas spring is happening during the concentric phase (lifting) of the muscle contraction. And further to be learned is that the higher the mechanical resistance the higher the concentric contraction force from the muscle, the more lactate is produced. Higher lactate equals higher anabolic hormone and growth factor production. On the other side of the rep, the n-gas spring creates less extension force resulting in less eccentric phase (lowering) contraction activation and less damage leading to a reduction DOMS and cortisol.
Less n-gas extension force = less eccentric contraction force = less contractile fiber damage = less DOMS = less cortisol and a host of other negative side effects.
So, DOMS doesn't create muscle but does create inflammation and higher cortisol response. So let's look at that. What you don't see is the cortisol response. Cortisol is our "st