Eccentric Exercise is a hot research topic among exercise physiologists. Most research has focused on concentric exercise. As often happens, the eccentric is readily overlooked. Concentric exercise is exercise that involves muscle fiber shortening. During eccentric exercise muscles are lengthening under stress. Hiking is great exercise in part because it involves many different types of stresses. If you are in mountainous terrain it includes both concentric and eccentric exercise. Hiking (or running) uphill is concentric exercise, while moving downhill is eccentric.Uphill tends to burn more calories than downhill, but it looks like downhill hiking provides special benefits on its own.
Testing Up Hill (Concentric) and Down Hill (Eccentric Exercise) Hiking.
Researchers in Austria and Lichtenstein have been looking at the benefits of hiking down hill. The study group has also been looking at ways for people to exercise more easily when they either do not have time or are just not interested in doing it. The studies used two groups of people. One group hiked only uphill, and the other hiked only down hill. Hiking only uphill or only downhill may be problematic for most people. For the study, a cable car was used to transport hikers in the up group down. And the down group up. Blood samples were collected before the start of the hiking procedure and afterward. Hikers hiked in one direction for two months and then switched to the other directions.
Hiking results and findings.
Hiking uphill and downhill both improved blood measures of total cholesterol, low-density lippoprotein cholesterole (LDL), apolipproteinB/A1 ratios (by about 11%), insulin resistance and reduced levels of C-reactive protein by ~30%. Hiking uphill burns more energy. Hiking uphill requires about 4x as much energy as hiking downhill.
Still, it is nice to know that walking downhill is so healthy. I find down-hill hiking stresses my knees and toes. However if you are one of those people who enjoys the downhills don’t worry too much if you hitch rides on cable cars. Or mules. Or whatever else is available. Perhaps this research will result in the development of a new type of fitness equipment: A Stair Descender.
Eccentric exercise is the type of exercise stressor that leads to muscle soreness. And delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). But there is increasing evidence that eccentric exercise is more effective for improving muscle strength.
If you are looking for traditional hiking or eccentric exercise options and ideas take a look at:
Zeppetzauer M, Drexel H, Vonbank A, Rein P, Aczel S, & Saely CH (2013). Eccentric endurance exercise economically improves metabolic and inflammatory risk factors. European journal of preventive cardiology, 20 (4), 577-84 PMID: 22505055
Drexel H, Saely CH, Langer P, Loruenser G, Marte T, Risch L, Hoefle G, & Aczel S (2008). Metabolic and anti-inflammatory benefits of eccentric endurance exercise – a pilot study. European journal of clinical investigation, 38 (4), 218-26 PMID: 18339002