Recent advances in the understanding of the repeated bout effect: the protective effect against muscle damage from a single bout of eccentric exercise

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2003 Apr;13(2):88-97. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0838.2003.02477.x.


The repeated bout effect refers to the adaptation whereby a single bout of eccentric exercise protects against muscle damage from subsequent eccentric bouts. While the mechanism for this adaptation is poorly understood there have been significant recent advances in the understanding of this phenomenon. The purpose of this review is to provide an update on previously proposed theories and address new theories that have been advanced. The potential adaptations have been categorized as neural, mechanical and cellular. There is some evidence to suggest that the repeated bout effect is associated with a shift toward greater recruitment of slow twitch motor units. However, the repeated bout effect has been demonstrated with electrically stimulated contractions, indicating that a peripheral, non-neural adaptation predominates. With respect to mechanical adaptations there is evidence that both dynamic and passive muscle stiffness increase with eccentric training but there are no studies on passive or dynamic stiffness adaptations to a single eccentric bout. The role of the cytoskeleton in regulating dynamic stiffness is a possible area for future research. With respect to cellular adaptations there is evidence of longitudinal addition of sarcomeres and adaptations in the inflammatory response following an initial bout of eccentric exercise. Addition of sarcomeres is thought to reduce sarcomere strain during eccentric contractions thereby avoiding sarcomere disruption. Inflammatory adaptations are thought to limit the proliferation of damage that typically occurs in the days following eccentric exercise. In conclusion, there have been significant advances in the understanding of the repeated bout effect, however, a unified theory explaining the mechanism or mechanisms for this protective adaptation remains elusive.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Connective Tissue / pathology
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal
  • Recruitment, Neurophysiological
  • Sarcomeres / pathology