Athletes are always looking for the best way to get better, faster, stronger, leaner. We try all manner of training techniques, practice crazy splits or do insane exercises. While there's all kinds of wild methods out there, the technique you’re seeking is one you've already heard of: Negatives.
Negative, or eccentric, training is a technique in which you simply extend your time under tension in the eccentric portion of a repetition — the lowering or extending phase of a muscle contraction, as opposed to the concentric (positive) lifting and contracting phase.
Before you write negatives off as a gimmick, have a gander at these five, research-backed reasons to add negatives to your training:
You are about 1.75 times stronger in the eccentric portion of a rep than you are in the concentric. This imbalance is theorized to be a kind of defense adaptation — your body does not want you to lift something you can’t handle and possibly hurt yourself. But research shows that by increasing your eccentric capacity you will increase your concentric potential by proxy, a transfer of gains that can help you push past failure in future workouts and break through stubborn plateaus.
Fewer motor units are recruited during an eccentric contraction, which means there is more load per unit in an eccentric versus a concentric action, according to research. Therefore, you need fewer reps to elicit big results, saving time and energy. Furthermore, over time your central nervous system is better able to recruit more motor units faster, a neural adaptation that translates into bigger growth potential.
If you want to grow a muscle you’ve got to overload it. Adding intensity and time under tension with negative training triggers the protein-synthesis process in the body. Negatives also recruit more fast-twitch fibers (which have greater growth potential) and several studies that compared concentric and eccentric contractions in terms of hypertrophic gain declared eccentric training the champion. In one study, fast-twitch fibers increased 10 times more with eccentric training than with concentric training.
Well, at least better able to prevent injury. A study of competitive soccer players found that preseason eccentric strength training lowered the risk of tears in the anterior cruciate ligaments (ligaments in the knees, better known as the ACL) and hamstring strains. Other studies have shown that eccentric training improved the strength of the connective tissues in the body, also helping prevent injury.
Training at a higher intensity means a greater stress placed on the body; greater stress means greater adaptation, more motor units recruited, a higher release of growth hormone and an increase in the synthesis of protein in the body. Eccentric training also was shown to ramp up metabolism for up to 72 hours after workouts, meaning increased fat burning and a leaner you.
Convinced? Choose one of these techniques to try today:
At the end of a set, make the last few reps negatives. You don’t have to increase the weight, just the time under tension: Take at least six to 10 seconds to lower.
You may remember from earlier that athletes are up to 1.75x stronger during the eccentric phase of a lift. Time to put that to work. Find a partner and load a weight that is above your one-rep max for a lift, up to 150 percent higher. Have your partner assist with the positive contraction, then let go as you perform the negative solo.
For example, here’s how you’d do a bench press: Unrack the weight (with or without a lift-off), do a slow negative (three to five seconds) using full range of motion, then have your partner assist in lifting the weight back to the start.
Brief your training partner in advance. He’s not “spotting” you or there just for moral support. As soon as the negative portion of the rep is completed, your partner should be immediately, forcefully assisting you in lifting the weight back up. Remember, we’re working way beyond one-rep maxes here. If your buddy tries just giving it “pinkies”, or waiting to see if you can lift it, things will get ugly fast.
This kind of training is super taxing, so limit your work to three sets of three to five reps once a week per body part.
Two Up, One Down
No partner? No problem. Hit the machines and perform the positive phase of an exercise with both limbs, then the negative phase with one. To do a hamstring curl, for example, lift the roller with both legs, then lower it with one leg, taking up to five seconds for the negative.
Tip: Try the at-home Leg Day exercise that’s so good you’ll do it even when the gym opens up.