How Negative Reps Training Works

How Negative Reps Training Works

(Last Updated On: April 13, 2019)

Cathe Friedrich getting ready to do some negative reps with a heavy dumbbell

You’ve probably heard the term “negative reps” or “negative training.” This is an advanced training approach that places the emphasis of an exercise on the negative, or eccentric portion of the movement. Why would you want to do this?

Using this approach offers benefits you don’t get when you work the concentric and eccentric portion of an exercise equally and these benefits can lead to greater strength and hypertrophy gains. Negatives are a more advanced training strategy you can adopt when your muscles need a jumpstart for further growth. It’s an especially good technique when you’re trying to break through a strength-training plateau.

Eccentric & Concentric Reps: What’s the Difference?

Weight training movements consist of a concentric phase and an eccentric phase. The concentric portion is the phase where the muscle shortens or contracts. For example, when you do a push-up, the concentric portion is where you push your body away from the mat. For biceps curls, it’s when you bring the weights toward your chest. In contrast, the eccentric, or negative phase, is when the muscle lengthens against resistance. With the push-up, the eccentric portion is when you lower your body back toward the mat. For biceps curls, it’s when you lower the weight back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Likewise, the concentric portion of a squat is when you lower your body toward the floor, while the eccentric is the return to the starting position. This should give you a pretty good idea of what an eccentric movement entails.

Negative training shifts the focus toward the eccentric phase of an exercise.  Studies show it’s during the eccentric phase of a movement that muscle fibers sustain the most damage. You probably know that muscles that are damaged repair themselves in such a way that they become more capable of handling future challenges. It’s repair of the micro-trauma and micro-tears to muscle fibers that leads to hypertrophy gains. Any type of muscle damage, in the right setting, stimulates muscle protein synthesis for repair and growth.

The downside to this type of training is you may experience more severe DOMS or delayed-onset muscle soreness as you’re placing more sustained stress on your muscle fibers than you would normally. When a muscle contracts eccentrically, muscle fibers sustain more stress and damage than they do during a concentric contraction. It’s good for muscle growth and muscle strength gains but a negative in terms of how your muscles feel afterward. In other words, you can feel it 48 hours later!

Eccentric Training Maximizes the Weight You Can Handle

There’s another way that doing negative reps helps muscles develop greater strength and muscle size. Your muscles can handle more weight during the eccentric phase of a movement. You might be able to work with only 12 pounds in each hand when doing a biceps curl concentrically, yet you can easily work 15 pounds in each hand during the eccentric phase of the movement. So, one strategy would be to use a heavier weight than you would normally be able to handle and just focus on the eccentric portion of the movement. In fact, studies show you can support up to 20% more weight eccentrically than you can concentrically. Using a heavier weight could be the shock your muscles need to break out of a plateau. Besides, it’s a good ego boost to be able to work with more weight!

Finally, emphasizing the negative, or eccentric portion of a movement stresses your nervous system more than concentric reps. The added stress improves the capacity of your nervous system to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers, the type of fibers you need to build strength and power. So, the benefits occur at the level of the muscle (greater muscle damage) and at the level of the nervous system (more efficient recruitment of muscle fibers).

 Putting Negative Reps into Practice

Would you like to add eccentric training to your strength-training routine? To get the most out of eccentric training, it’s best to have a spotter. One way to train eccentrically is to use a weight that’s heavier than your one-rep max. A good place to start is with a weight that’s around 105% of your one-rep max. For example, if you can do an exercise using a 50-pound weight, increase the resistance by 2.5 pounds.  It’s possible to do this since you can work with more weight eccentrically. Have a spotter help you move the weight concentrically and then you control the weight on your own during the eccentric portion of the movement by slowing bringing the weight down to its starting position.

You can apply eccentric training to bodyweight exercises too. If you’re still doing push-ups on your knees, try getting into a plank position with your hands on the floor. Slowly lower your body down to the mat. Since you’re stronger eccentrically, you may be able to complete this phase of the push-up, even if you can’t push yourself back up. By working on the eccentric, or negative, phase of the push-up, you can gradually increase your strength and work toward doing a full push-up.

Another way to get the benefits of negative training is to use a resistance of 70 to 80% of your one-rep max and change the tempo so you’re emphasizing the eccentric phase of the movement. For the concentric portion, use a 1-second lift phase and an eccentric or lowering phase of between 4 and 5 seconds. You can extend the eccentric phase even longer as your muscles become stronger. By holding the muscle under tension longer during the eccentric phase, you’ll create more muscle damage and stimulus for growth.

Be Judicious about Negative Reps Training

Emphasizing the eccentric portion of an exercise is inherently harder on your body, which is why it helps break plateaus. But, don’t go overboard with it. Once or twice a week is sufficient to get the benefits. Expect to experience more soreness and for the soreness to last a little longer when you do negatives. On the plus side, negative training can do some positive things for your strength level and physique!

 

References:

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2015 APR 2015;29(4):1027-32.
J Physiol. 2001 Dec 1; 537(Pt 2): 333–345.doi:  10.1111/j.1469-7793.2001.00333.x.
Stack.com. “Build Muscle Fast With This Negative Weight Training Workout”

 

Related Articles By Cathe:

How Negative Reps Work

Accentuated Eccentric Lifting: a Different Approach to Conquering Strength-Training Plateaus

Strength Training: What Is an Eccentric Contraction?

Is Eccentric Exercise a Metabolism Booster?

How Often Should You Change Your Strength Training Routine?

 

Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs:

Slow & Heavy Workout DVD Series

All of Cathe’s Strength & Toning Workout DVDs

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