Workouts are full of negatives. Every up has a down. Every ascent has a descent. Every contraction has an extension. There are two sides to every rep, and, if you slow it down enough, the negative half can stimulate growth just as the positive half does. We discuss the positives of going negative.
The concentric (positive) halves of reps are when the muscle contracts. Conversely, the muscle lengthens during the eccentric (negative) halves of reps. The former occurs when raising the weight and the latter when the weight is lowered, but during all of that time—assuming you don’t simply drop the weight—your muscles remain under tension. Furthermore, you’re approximately 25% stronger during the negative halves of reps than during the positive halves. In other words, if you can bench press 240 lbs., you can lie on a bench and slowly lower a bar weighing 300 lbs.
On many lifts, you should focus more on the negative. Spend three seconds lowering each rep. This is especially effective for isolation exercises like biceps curls and leg extensions. Still, that extra strength you have on the eccentric explains why, even if you go slow, you don’t usually feel your muscles working as hard on the descent as the ascent. To truly go negative, you need to erase the strength imbalance and make the eccentric halves harder.
There are three methods to do this.
Method #1: Beyond Failure
Do 6-10 reps and stop only when you can’t grind out another rep on your own. Then have a spotter help you raise the weight. From this point on, it’s okay if the spotter does more work than you, because you’re no longer focused on the positive. You’re now all about the negative. While maintaining strict form, lower the weight slowly, taking approximately 6 seconds for the descent. Do 2-5 of these negative reps. In effect, you use 100% of your positive strength on the 6-10 positive reps and then use that extra 25% negative strength on the 2-5 negative reps, pushing yourself well beyond positive rep failure.
Method #2: Forced Positive
You can also do entirely negative sets. Select a weight that’s approximately 25% greater than what you’d use for a regular set of 8 reps. Have a spotter do most of the lifting on the concentric halves of reps. Your focus will be on the eccentric. Lower the weight slowly and controlled over 6 seconds. Do 6-10 such negative reps.
(On some machine exercises, you can do this without any assistance by lifting the weight bilaterally and lowering it unilaterally. For example, on the leg extension, raise both legs but then lower one leg. You can either alternate legs or do 6-10 reps with one leg and 6-10 with the other.)
Method #3: Forced Negative
So far, we’ve focused on reducing stress on the positive halves of reps so you can ramp it up on the negative halves. Alternately, you can increase stress on the negative. These are, in effect, reverse forced reps because the spotter makes the reps harder instead of easier. He pushes or pulls down on the weight during the negative portions while you resist gravity’s pull, purposely going slow.
For example, on pulldowns, you’ll bring the bar down on your own (or the spotter can help you). Then, as the weight stack lowers and the bar rises, the spotter pushes down on the bar, increasing resistance. The key is for the spotter to add just enough to make the negative harder but not so much that you can’t smoothly but slowly lower the weight over approximately five seconds. With experience, a training partner should be able to add just enough to negative reps to make them about 25% harder.
ECCENTRIC TRAINING BASICS
✹ You’re approximately 25% stronger on the eccentric halves of reps than the concentric halves.
✹ Negatives can be used to extend a set beyond full-rep failure.
✹ A forced positive is when resistance is reduced on the concentric so you can focus on the eccentric.
✹ A forced negative is when resistance is added to only the eccentric.
ECCENTRIC TRAINING TIP SHEET
✹ In most cases, you need a spotter to help add or reduce resistance.
✹ Some machine exercises can be done alone by raising the weight bilaterally and lowering it unilaterally.
✹ Negatives are inappropriate for exercises that are difficult to spot, such as the deadlift.
✹ Machine exercises are typically safer and easier to spot during negatives. For example, we do not recommend negative reps of free-weight squats, but you can do negative squat reps with a hack or Smith machine.
✹ Even if you train alone, slowly lowering the weight during the negative halves of reps can be beneficial.