As we continue on our journey of educating people on various terms and concepts, now we will cover, “What are negatives?” There are a lot of techniques that are utilized by intermediate and advanced lifters to further muscle strength and size gains. At the beginner level it is more of a matter of simply lifting weights using compound exercises and going to failure. The body then adapts and grows; up to a point.
After a certain point in training the human body naturally reaches a level where basic lifting no longer suffices to create enough stimulation to force muscle growth. At the same point, as the body builds up to this level, it is also increasing its endurance and capacity for recovery. Typically people consider this the time when they step from beginner to intermediate and are ready to use additional techniques such as negatives, supersets, drop-sets, and other concepts.
So what are Negatives?
Basically there are three aspects to moving weights.
- There is the positive portion of a movement where the muscle contracts. When you do a biceps curl, the curling motion itself is considered the positive movement.
- There is static movement. That is when you hold the weight in place. Some people do static holds on heavy compound movements.
- Then there is the negative portion that happens when the muscle stretches back out. Often this is considered lowering the weight.
Secrets about Negative Strength
You are actually stronger in the negative phase of strength than the other two phases. Scientists surmise the body was built in this manner as a defensive mechanism where muscles are typically 30-50% stronger in the extension phase of a muscle. This prevents you from ever lifting a weight that is too heavy for your body to handle. Most people also have more static strength compared to what they can lift in the positive range of motion.
Why Do Negatives?
Ideally you want to build bigger and stronger muscles. This means stressing muscle fibers in whatever manner possible to encourage them to grow in response. As you are so much stronger in the negative portion of any lift, those muscle fibers hardly ever get the same type of work as the fibers contracting the muscle.
So why limit yourself? If in theory you are only working part of the muscle, wouldn’t working all of the muscle create more growth?
The easiest way to perform negative training is to simply go slower when lowering weight down on any exercise. For example, if you are doing barbell curls for your biceps and it takes a 1 count to curl the weight up, take a 3 count to lower the weight. Resisting gravity in this manner will tax the muscle a lot more than most people are used to.
Another way is after the last repetitions you can easily do, lower the weight over a 10 count. This is very hard and takes a lot of control to keep the weight in position and taxes your static and negative strength.
Lastly if you have a training partner you can do full negative repetitions. That is where you load up a weight that you can’t lift without help. Then your partner helps lift the weight in the positive portion of the exercise and you control it in the negative portion.
Thoughts on Negatives
This is brutal at first. Start slow and only add doing negatives to one exercise per session at first. Then as you and your body adapt you can add more. It will make you incredibly sore to start with as more than likely your negative strength will not have been tested like this.
For partner assisted negative and even slow negatives you have to be very careful. Typically you are always strong enough to control a weight you can’t lift up. But when you train the negative portion and that strength gives out there are no backups. Having a spotter, using proper safety, and ensuring you won’t get stuck under a weight are critical when doing negative reps.