Muscles contract in three ways – concentrically (shorten), eccentrically (lengthen) and isometrically (no change in length). Whilst this may seem obvious, if you understand the significance of this you can alter your training to include slow eccentric loading exercises (negatives) and enjoy lots of muscle-building and strength benefits.
The way you train will have significant effects on the results you achieve. Manipulating variables such as weight, rest periods, sets, reps etc in the weight room will often determine not only the type of benefits you get from your routine, but the speed with which they arrive.
One of the most interesting variables to manipulate is time under tension (TUT), in particular by using eccentric loading or negatives. Programmed correctly, negatives will accelerate hypertrophy (muscle growth) and strength gains far beyond a traditional approach to weight training.
The eccentric contraction (lengthening) damages the myofibers in the muscle tissue and it preferentially recruits fast-twitch fibers. This means there is a greater amount of stress per motor unit with eccentric exercises, producing greater muscle growth. A slow eccentric contraction therefore increases the amount of time during which this damage and fast twitch recruitment can occur.
Regular and consistent training with negatives will produce frequent large bouts of motor unit fatigue and therefore larger gains in lean mass. There is research shows that maximal muscle hypertrophy is only reached if eccentric actions are performed. This is because eccentric contractions lead to a more rapid stimulation of protein synthesis and greater increases in insulin-like growth factor-1.
Not only will heavy eccentric training result in greater muscle damage, it preferentially recruits fast twitch muscle fibers. This means you can target previously inactive motor units giving you more muscle growth.
A trainee knowing how to take advantage of this can really adapt their routine. Adding negatives into your resistance training routine will not only give your body a complete shock it isn’t used to, you will create an environment in which previously untested muscle fibres will be pushed to a limit.
Any exercise with a clearly defined concentric and eccentric phase can be adapted to be performed as a negative. Check out these examples from my youtube channel…
My suggestion is to programme these in one day at first. Make sure you have at least 2 days recovery afterwards. Done correctly, negatives will create a significant amounts of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and tax the neural system far beyond what it is used to – especially if you aren’t used to this kind of exercise.
There is a school of thought that suggests you shouldn’t mix significantly different rep ranges for fear of creating unnecessary neural stress and fatigue, so stick to a similar weight range.
Tips for programming negatives…
- Reduce your weights significantly – by as much as 50% at first. When performing negatives you are taking ALL momentum out of the exercise, so you are on your own! Slowing the rep speed down makes the exercise significantly harder, so leave your ego at the door.
- Given the slower cadence and the harder individual reps, expect to be able to perform less per set. This may be obvious, but in an ego-driven discipline it will be a bitter pill for some trainees to swallow, performing less reps with a lighter weight!
- To begin with, stick to a maximum of 4 exercises per session where you are using negatives. You can always add more to your programme if you can cope with the demands on your system, but to start with less is more. Remember the first rule of training – do no harm.
- Train with a spotter. Each rep will be harder than your normal approach, meaning fatigue and failure will arrive quicker. To ensure your safety, train with a spotter so you don’t end up collapsed in a pile with a barbell pinning you to the floor.
- Strengthen your core. Slow reps mean you are under load for longer, so your body needs to be able to cope with the pressure. A strong core will ensure you are protecting yourself as best as possible from injury.
If you aren’t a user of this approach, give it a try – you may never look back. As with any approach to training, it should never be seen as the solution to all questions, but it is a remarkably simple yet effective approach and one all people looking to improve muscle strength and increase muscle size should employ periodically.
If you are interested in this topic, here is some further reading…