Here’s why you should concentrate on the “negative” or lowering portion (eccentric) in a set of lifting weights for muscle growth and strength.
Perhaps you’ve already heard of “negative training,” or, “He does a lot of negatives.”
The negative (also known as eccentric) portion of a weightlifting repetition is the release or lowering of the weight.
During the negative, the muscle is elongated. During the positive it’s shortened.
Many people neglect the negative, letting the weight fly up, for instance, in the lat pull-down, or drop fast in the preacher curl.
This quick lowering or release is also often seen in heavy leg extensions and leg curls.
Though the lifting portion (positive or concentric phase) is important, the negative has been shown to be more effective, says research from Edith Cowan University.
For the study, people performed three types of dumbbell curls.
Participants who performed only the negative (lowering) had the same improvements as those who both raised and lowered the resistance.
However, the ones who did only the negative also performed only half the reps.
This is hardly the first study to demonstrate that eccentric contractions are more effective at increasing muscle strength and size.
A good negative contraction should last three seconds.
How the Study Was Done
- Dumbbell curls were done twice a week for five weeks.
- One group did negative-only; a second group did positive-only; a third did both negative and positive.
- The negative-only group did half as many reps as the negative/positive group.
All three lifting modalities resulted in concentric (raising the weight) strength.
However, the negative-only and negative/positive groups experienced improvements in not just eccentric strength but also in static (isometric) strength.
What about size?
The eccentric-only subjects had the best improvement in muscle hypertrophy: 7.2 percent vs. the negative/positive group at 5.4 percent.
This sounds counterintuitive, because seemingly, only lowering a weight is less work than raising and lowering it.
But if you’ve been struggling to gain mass or strength, perhaps you should focus on only the lowering or release for five weeks and see what happens.
How to Do a Negative-Only Repetition of Strength Training
For the dumbbell curl, you can use a preacher platform with a one-arm curl, as this would make it easy to use one hand to help the other arm raise the weight.
This approach can also be used for concentration curls.
A self-assist with the positive phase can also easily be done with the following:
- Parallel bar dip
- Bench dip
- One-arm triceps extension
- One-leg leg press
- Two-leg leg press
- One-leg chair squat
- One-arm seated cable row
- One-arm pull-down
- Stationary lunge
Training only the negatives can also be accomplished with barbell presses using a spotter to help raise the weight.
For other exercises or those for which you don’t have a spotter, you should take three seconds for the eccentric phase, such as with the leg curl and leg extension.
The exception is the deadlift and back squat, as these are giant moves for which textbook form is crucial. You don’t want to be spending extra time in the negative phase.
Read more about the study.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.