Using Negatives in Your Workout

If the terms; negatives, negative reps or negative training, don’t ring any bells, you may be one of those folks at the gym that are concentrating only on the actual lifting portion of your workout, ignoring an extremely important technique that will not only help beginners maximize their workouts but can also help advanced lifters break through those frustrating plateaus. Quite simply, negative training is one of the most effective lifting techniques to stimulate the growth of muscle. Using negatives in your workout is essential to your success.

The concept of negative training is fairly easy to understand. If you’re simply dropping the weights like a rock after your lift, you’re missing an opportunity to work your muscles on the way down. This is one of the biggest mistakes that beginning lifters make. When performing a lift, you are using the contractile force of your muscles to produce a “positive” movement. When the weight comes down, actually resisting the pull of gravity, will add an entirely new dimension to your workout. The uncontracting of the muscle is considered a “negative” movement.

• Concentric (Positive): Contracting the muscle

• Eccentric (Negative): Extending the muscle

While a positive movement is actually working the muscle, a negative movement also puts the tendons and supportive structures to work. Tendon strength needs to increase exponentially with muscle strength. Our bodies are amazing. When you think about this concept, you have to consider that the amount of weight you can lift is going to be determined by your current strength. Your body, however, is capable of more strength when putting something down than it is when picking something up.

Alternate negative training exercises

In that sense, if you can curl 1RM on a 100lb barbell, your % of power output increases from 100% on the positive motion to 140% on the negative motion. The reason negative training is so effective is simply that while we may have the strength to lift a heavy object, it requires even more strength to hold it in place. Our bodies, however, have the ability to control the descent on that particular object so we don’t injure ourselves. The idea behind negative training, therefore, is to basically use this ability and actually push it to the limit. The idea then is to make the negative movement harder than the positive movement. There are a few ways this can be accomplished:

  • If working on machines, use both legs or arms to lift the weight but switch to one leg or arm to release the weight, doubling the amount of weight on the way down.
  • Slow down the pace of the negative. It should take approximately 6-10 seconds to return the weight.
  • Use a partner to lift the positive to approximately 10% heavier than your 1RM and then lower the weight slowly on your own.
  • Complete the positive as you normally would but have a partner add lean or pull on the weight or bar on it’s way down.

Negatives or negative reps, as they may be referred to, are actually very easy to incorporate into your workout if you’re not currently using them. The key is simply understanding that to get the full benefit of a lift, you should not allow the weight to drop but should instead, actually resist the downward motion with as much, if not more effort that you put into the lift itself. When adding negatives to your training regime, it’s important to take your time when lowering the weight and to concentrate on the muscle you’re working on. You should actually be fighting gravity on this one, pulling or pushing against the force that is trying to return the weight to its starting place.

While there are lifters who concentrate only on negative training for their workouts, most experts suggest that this is no better than simply concentrating on positive training. It is important to do both with consistency to maximize the benefits. Negatives can be completed as a part of each lift or as a separate workout altogether. Since experts seem to disagree on the pros and cons, it seems safe to say that how to actually incorporate the negatives into your workout is probably just going to be a personal preference. It would be a good idea to experiment a little to see which seems to have the most impact on you.

Options for incorporating negatives in a training program:

  • Complete a negative rep for each positive rep. This is a combination of the two techniques.
  • Complete all positives reps normally and set aside specific training time to concentrate only on negatives.
  • Complete focused negatives at the beginning of your workout when your muscles are the strongest.
  • Complete your negatives at the end of your workout or to push a set past the failure point by having a partner help lift the weight. Since muscles are already fatigued, the weights will feel even heavier and muscles will have to work even harder.

While some trainers believe that negatives are too dangerous to use with most free-weight exercises, others believe they should be incorporated into all types of lifts. The important thing to remember, however, is that it’s extremely important to know what you’re doing and what your limitations are. A spotter or partner is essential to negatives training and if you have suffered any type of joint problems in a particular area, you should avoid using negative reps. Negative training is also very hard on the body and should not be done for extended periods of time. Many trainers are actually suggesting switching between negatives, positives, and partials for the maximum benefit.

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