The negative or eccentric phase occurs when you lower resistance as it gets pulled down by gravity toward the earth.
You are about 20-40% stronger on the negative. Research shows that this phase best stimulates growth. Eccentric training generates greater tension in the muscles. Tension is the main stimulus for size and strength.
Based on such a promise, trainees have designed negative-only regimens using partners, machines, or even their own limbs to help lift weights on the positive to then lower it. For pull-ups or dips, you could stand on a chair or step to get to the top then lower yourself to overload the negative.
Nonetheless, it also inflicts damage. It is a double-edged sword that gives you another way to cut but may slice you as well. Though negative-only training has given some good results, they fail to differ enough from regular reps to justify the possible risks in most cases.
A maximal eccentric contraction is the greatest possible voluntary force production possible, this maximum approaches the point of structural and functional failure and therefore remains difficult to measure. This indicates that training near or at task failure for eccentric contractions must be approached carefully, since it represents the final reserve of strength the body possesses when dealing with a given weight.
For a period of approximately eight months, immediately prior to the Colorado Experiment, we conducted an extensive series of tests with a number of subjects… comparing negative work to positive work. The results of these tests were clear… for the purpose of increasing strength, negative exercise is far superior to positive exercise.
– Arthur Jones
- You must do some negative exercise.
Negative contractions promote greater force productions at all speeds. For a given load, eccentric contractions generate less total tension than positive contractions, but more tension in fewer muscle fibers. Although less get hit at once, you will hit them all with enough effort.
Negatives use fewer fibers more intensely due to cross-bridge mechanics. The fibers act differently both physically and neurally, with greater motor unit synchronization, elastic energy stored, and lesser detachment and faster reattachment of actin and myosin filaments during a contraction. It also causes greater tearing to stimulate growth.
One disadvantage to negative work seems that it gets your heart rate up less. Positive work appears important for improving your cardio. For resistance training though, we ignore this aspect to focus on strength and size.
- Control the negative.
Negative failure occurs when you can no longer lower a weight safely. This is the final level of strength and with none left the weight will free fall. If you feel the weight dropping instead of lowering under control, you seriously risk your safety. The weight could crush your body or lead to a dangerous force spike that tears a muscle. It also keeps you balanced, preventing one side of the body from dominating the exercise.
You would have no power to decelerate if negative strength failed to act strongest. Imagine kicking a soccer ball. How would you be able to control the follow-through if negative strength was weaker than positive strength? You would jam your knee as no force could brake the joint. It makes sense then that too much negative stress would have great consequences.
Although negatives with faster speeds allow for slightly more force production, this increase quickly plateaus. Therefore, the force of an eccentric contraction appears nearly the same at all velocities. Eccentric contractions always allow for more tension in specific muscle fibers than possible for either holding or positive contractions at any movement speed.
Slowing down will generate basically the same amount of force, yet keep you safe and allow you to get all the benefits of eccentric training.
- Harder to standardize.
Regular sets have clear criteria for success. Negative only work can change depending on the speed of movement and what portions of the range of motion you spend the most time in. Many trainees will milk the easier endpoints of the negatives without realizing it because leverage is better, making it feel easier. Regular reps with both a positive and negative phase avoid this.
- It feels impractical.
Overloading the negative requires some means of overcoming the positive since this level of strength is weaker. You also have lag time and can rarely do consecutive reps negatively. If the respite lasts too long it can make your exercise less efficient.
These make it difficult to implement. It also makes it unsafe since you have to rely on others and other less precise means to transfer between phases instead of yourself whom best understands your limitations.
- You can get too much of a good thing.
You will not feel the stress you place on yourself while in the moment, making it easy to abuse negatives.
The relationship between concentric and eccentric force production exists to allow efficient braking to end rapid movements. This allows deceleration to occur quickly in order to maximize the speed of a movement until the desired range of motion finishes. Movement would not occur properly and safely if this relationship failed to exist.
Effort seems most important for results. Not trying your best on negatives will still generate poor results.
Proper exercise achieves the minimum required. Overkill does not achieve even better results and destroys your recovery. Positive reps act as a sort of built-in limitation toward too much negative work. It seems that regular sets provide the benefits without exacting too great a cost. You need just enough stimulation to activate the signal for more strength and size.
Some studies have shown excessive negative work leading to months upon months needed for recovery. You can recover from regular sets within a week. It can lead to incredible delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Soreness is a non-factor but will halt progress while it remains. Soreness is merely a side effect from a workout, neither good nor bad.
Your body will adapt to negative stress from the repeated bout effect. As long as not excessive, your muscles get better at handling soreness. Eventually it will go away completely. Never judge your workout based on soreness.
Perform Normal Reps to Address the Negative
Normal reps worked hard and sensibly have created the strongest men in the world. Negative work is important, but too much just slows recovery. It fails to lead to super results. Negative strength always shares a relationship with positive strength. Perhaps negatives represent just a different side of the same coin so to speak and carry no special value.
Some may wish to experiment on it for certain exercises where positive strength limits you. This can occur on bodyweight exercises such as chins and dips. These exercises also inherently have better safety mechanisms versus other free weight options. Negative strength also has powerful therapy applications for very weak muscles. I suggest against this but if do try it then make sure to stay safe.
For both safety and results, reaching positive failure seems enough though. You work until you can no longer lift the weight. You should get enough negative work during a normal set. Try to resist doing a long negative for your last rep, and instead try to make progress through another rep. If you do decide to experiment with negative training, proceed carefully.