In sports, the word “negative” conjures up fielding errors, dropped passes, turnovers, missed field goals, blown opportunities and more losses than wins. In the weight room, however, performing negative reps can produce positive training results.
Negative reps, or “negatives,” are not new. For years, bodybuilders and other weight training enthusiasts have incorporated them for added intensity, variety and as a way to break through training plateaus after being stuck at the same resistance for certain exercises. Twenty-five years ago, author Philip A. Sienna wrote a weight training book called One Rep Max, which mentioned the benefits of eccentric contractions:
“It is important that you maintain tension in your muscles during the eccentric phase of the isotonic contraction since it has been proved that you can improve strength from that type of contraction just as well as the concentric or muscle shortening phase. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was popular to do ‘negatives’ (eccentric contractions), particularly on the bench press, to increase muscle strength.”
Learn more about getting stronger with eccentric training.
Fast forward to 2014, when Ellington Darden, Ph.D., mentions “tapping the muscle-building power of negative training” in his book, The Body Fat Breakthrough. Darden cites a 2009 study by Marc Roig, Ph.D., head of the Muscle Biophysics Laboratory at the University of British Columbia, comparing negative-style resistance with regular positive training:
“Focused negative exercise, the kind that occurs when you first do the slow lowering of a Push-Up, can cause microscopic tears, which ignite the protein-synthesis process.” Roig concluded that “negative training was significantly more effective in increasing muscular size and strength than positive-style training.”
Need further evidence of the positive results of negative training? Darden mentions these beneficial eccentric exercise actions:
- Recruits more fast-twitch fibers, which contribute predominantly to muscular size.
- Works the entire joint structure, resulting in more strength, range of motion, stability and healing properties.
- Transfers strength gains to positive work for optimal lifting performance.
- Requires greater work in less time—translating to more efficient training sessions and faster results.
- Negative training makes a deeper inroad during each repetition, which stimulates natural muscle-building growth hormone (GH) production.
Once or twice a week, try the following intense full-body workout, using negative reps to increase size and strength for your sport when combined with traditional rep tempo sets in subsequent training sessions. You typically do not require a spotter when performing negative reps for exercises such as Bench Presses, Overhead Presses and Barbell Squats.
Do the full-body workout on non-consecutive days to allow for complete recovery, since negative reps sometimes cause greater muscle soreness than regular reps.
- Do a dynamic upper- and lower-body warm-up (e.g., Arm Circles/Lunges).
- Hydrate before, during and after the workout.
- Finish with a cool-down of upper- and lower-body static stretches to enhance range of motion and flexibility on and off the field.
- Sets/Reps: 3×5
- Resistance: 70-80% RM
- Rest Between Sets: 30-45 seconds; 60 seconds between different exercises.
- Rep Tempo: 1 second during the positive (concentric) lift phase; 15 seconds during the negative (eccentric) or lowering phase.
- To boost growth and strength gains, allow 24-48 hours or more for adequate recovery.
- Dumbbells or kettlebells, and cables.
- Pull-Up bar.
- Bench or chair.
Negative Elevated Push-Ups
- Assume push-up position with feet atop a bench or chair and hands shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly lower yourself while keeping back straight (don’t sag) and quickly press up.
- Attempt 5-10 reps. These challenging push-ups strengthen and build the chest, shoulders, upper back and triceps and indirectly work the core muscles in the abdomen and lower and middle back.
- Use a portable bench if needed to get yourself started at the top of the pull-up position.
- Use a pronated or overhand grip with hands shoulder-width apart and chin already above the bar when you’re standing on the bench.
- Slowly lower yourself down to the bench with your knees bent and legs crossed. (Learn how to perform this exercise by watching it.)
- Repeat 5-10 reps.
Negative Dumbbell or Kettlebell Squats
- If using dumbbells or kettlebells, hold them with an underhand grip at shoulder level rather than at your sides.
- Slowly descend to parallel squat position, pause for a second at the bottom and quickly return to standing position.
- You should feel the soreness in your hips and legs from the negative reps!
- Squats build explosive lower and upper body power plus increase overall size and strength required for peak sports performance.
Negative Upright Cable Rows
- Assume athletic stance facing a cable machine and pull cables toward your shoulders.
- Slowly lower them and then pull up again.
- Pause a second before starting the negative part of the rep.
- A more advanced and difficult version: perform the movement on one leg to improve balance, another valuable sports performance component.
- Do 5 reps with your left foot off the floor and 5 reps with your right foot off the floor.
Sienna, Philip A., Ed.D. One Rep Max (Benchmark, Inc., 1989). p. 58.
Darden, Ellington, Ph.D. The Body Fat Breakthrough (Rodale, Inc., 2014). pp. 12, 80.