Are you robbing yourself of potential muscle gains by the way that you’re training?
If you are not purposefully incorporating negative or eccentric training into your workouts then the answer is a definite yes. Eccentric training is a powerful but too often underutilized technique to get stronger and to build more muscle that you need to be taking full benefit of. In this article, we’re about to show you how.
What is Negative Training?
Negative training is when you purposefully emphasize the lowering, or eccentric, part of the exercise that you are doing. Let’s say, for example, that you are doing pull-ups. Pulling from the dead hanging position up to the bar is the positive, or concentric, part of the exercise. During this phase, your working muscles, in this case, the latissimus dorsi, are contracting and getting shorter. When you come back and down, you are performing the negative, or eccentric, part of the rep. During this phase, your muscles are extending and getting longer.
There is a third phase of every exercise, which is the transition between the concentric and the eccentric. So, in the case of the pull-up, the transition is the slight pause at the top of the movement before you begin the descent.
Most people have a training tempo as follows:
- Concentric phase – one second
- Transition phase -zero seconds
- Eccentric phase – one second
Negative training increases the eccentric phase up to 7 seconds.
Benefits of Negative Training
We are all stronger in the lowering, or negative, part of an exercise. In other words, we can lower heavier weight than we can lift. The average differential is around 15 percent. So, if you can do a barbell curl with 100 pounds, you should be able to lower 115 pounds under control. Interestingly, research studies show that there is greater strength and muscle-building potential during the negative part of the rep than during the positive part. That potential to lift greater weight provides increased stress on the muscle fibers. This causes micro-tears in the muscle tissue which, when fed with protein between workouts, rebuilds to be bigger and stronger to be able to withstand the same stress in the future.
Unless you are proactively using negative training, however, you will not be benefiting from this muscle stress potential.
Increased Time Under Tension
There has been quite a lot of research done lately on the effects of time under tension on strength and muscle gains (1). Time under tension relates to the total amount of time it takes to complete your set. Studies confirm that the ideal time under tension for muscle growth and strength increase by around 45-55 seconds. However, most trainers are falling well short of this.
If we go back to the common training tempo that we identified earlier, we will find that a typical set of eight reps will take just 16 seconds, which is at least half a minute short of the ideal time under tension. However, when we add in negative training, we dramatically increase that time. Let’s just say that on every rep of our eight rep set we included a five-second eccentric phase. That would give us 40 seconds on just the negative part of the movement. Add in the eight seconds for the concentric phase and we are up to 48 seconds, which is within our ideal time under tension range.
When you strengthen your body through the eccentric part of a movement, you dramatically decrease the likelihood of injury, not just in the gym but also in real life. The majority of injuries that people sustain occur during the lowering, or eccentric, part of a movement. This could be when you are following through on a golf swing or slipping on ice and falling to the ground. When you are strong throughout the eccentric part of the movement, however, you can quickly counter the deceleration forces that are working on your body. This can prevent falls and other injuries.
3 Ways to Add Negative Training to Your Workouts
- Use negatives to extend a set beyond positive muscular failure. Let’s say that you are doing a set of barbell curls. Perform your set until you reach positive muscular failure, where you can no longer do a concentric rep with proper form. Then have your training partner help you to get the weight through the concentric phase. Now resist the eccentric phase to a count of seven seconds. Do this for five or six reps and you will have reached negative muscular failure, where you can no longer control the eccentric phase.
- Use negatives to boost your training poundages. If you have reached a training plateau, add an extra 10 percent of poundage onto the bar and have your training partner help you get the eight up through the concentric part of the rep. Now take five-seven seconds to lower through the eccentric phase. Do this for three sets of six-eight reps. Within two-three weeks, you should be able to move that weight through the concentric as well as the eccentric phase of the exercise.
- Slow down during the eccentric phase of every set you perform. Set the goal to take three seconds to lower the weight. Depending on how many reps you perform, this will get you much closer to the ideal time under tension for maximum muscle and strength growth.
Incorporating Eccentric Training Into Your Routine
Slowing down on the negative part of a repetition will take some practice. Our natural tendency is to lower the weight quickly so you will have to resist the surge. Start by lowering to a count of three and then gradually extend from there.
Eccentric training is an intense technique that results in quite a bit of muscle soreness. It is something that needs to be transitioned into gradually. So, while you should consciously go slower on the eccentric part of every rep from now on, use extended eccentric reps, where you lower to a count of seven seconds, sparingly. I suggest beginning by adding one negative set at the end of your workout to take your final set beyond positive failure to negative failure. To do this, you will need your training partner to help you through the concentric part of the rep once you have reached positive muscular failure.
Negative training is one of the most powerful techniques you can use on the gym floor to maximally stress your muscle tissue. Now that you know how it works, make full use of it to get the maximum benefit from all of that hard work that you are investing into your body.
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- Vogt, M.; Hoppeler, H. (2014). “Eccentric exercise: mechanisms and effects when used as training regime or training adjunct”. (source)