Let me tell you a story about Evan and what he accomplished last winter. Evan is a 6’3″, 190-pound sophomore football and lacrosse standout who wanted to improve his Chin-Ups for an upcoming lacrosse fitness test. At the start of his winter program, he could do only four or five reps with good form, and he wanted to perform at least 10 reps. I challenged him with one of the most difficult exercises I know: the Negative Chin-Up.
Negatives (technically called forced lengthening contractions) have been around for a long time and are proven to develop strength rapidly. However, they are very intense, physically exhausting and require a high level of focus to complete. Quite simply, they are too demanding for many athletes—except those who accept the challenge and stay consistent with their workouts.
To understand why Negative Chin-Ups are so effective, you need to know how muscles contract. (Find out how muscles work.) There are three types of contractions:
- Concentric: muscle shortens (e.g., upward motion of Chin-Up)
- Eccentric: muscle lengthens under tension (e.g., lowering phase of Chin-Up)
- Isometric: muscle contracts but stays the same length (e.g., holding Chin-Up with chin over the bar)
Most athletes focus only on the concentric phase of the exercise, which is a huge mistake. They miss out on potential gains by failing to work their muscles during the lowering phase, where they are actually 40 percent stronger.
Now, back to Evan. Remember, he could only perform four or five Chin-Ups when he started the program. But how many reps could he perform when he only did the lowering part of the exercise? And if his strength improved in the negative phase, would that carry over to the concentric?
We had Evan perform eight Negative Chin-ups three times each week. He climbed on top of a plyo box to start with his chin above the bar. He held this for one second, then lowered for eight seconds (timed by a spotter), until his arms were completely straight. He then climbed back up on the box to perform the next rep. He never pulled himself up.
Once Evan was able to perform eight reps on an eight-second count, we added weight around his waist. If the weight was so challenging that he could not complete eight reps, he stayed at that weight for the next few workouts until he mastered it.
After eight weeks of training, Evan went from lowering himself with only his body weight for eight reps to lowering his body weight plus an extra 60 pounds for eight reps. In addition, he built upper-body muscle and improved his other upper-body exercises. When he performed the Chin-Up test, he was able to knock out 15 reps with perfect form, tripling his previous best!
This story shows not only the value of Negative Chin-Ups, but also the simplicity of training and getting stronger. Choose an exercise, develop a basic system for improvement, stay focused and work hard. Getting stronger and reaching your goal is not magic, it’s effort.
Below is Evan’s complete workout from winter 2012: