Negative training is used by the likes of elite athletes, bodybuilders, and rehabilitation specialists. Negative training utilizes eccentric movement, which is the lengthening or lowering portion of an exercise. Research has demonstrated how effective it is in building strength, without overloading the vital systems of the body.

Quite often, people focus on the concentric (muscle shortening) movement of the lift and let gravity return the weight for them. They do this time and time again and are frustrated with not seeing improvements. Many people are stuck in plateaus where they are no long making any gains and are looking for something to give them a boost.

If you’ve hit a sticking point, it’s time that you discover the positives of negative training. World-renowned coach Charles Poliquin used eccentric training with 2008 Olympic Champion Long Jumper Dwight Phillips.  Although Phillips was sceptical at first, the training increased his speed so much he was able to beat beat top US sprinters and ran close to 10.00sec dead for the 100m.

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The power in eccentric action

Multiple studies over the years have demonstrated that the body is able to resist a lot more than it can move. A study conducted by Roig et al found that skeletal muscle has a great capacity to absorb mechanical energy during eccentric action and a large proportion of this stored energy is reused to reduce the active force requirements in the subsequent concentric muscle contraction.

Your muscles are almost acting a spring, ready to bounce back from the force that is applied to them. It is not uncommon for a lot of strength coaches to use plyometric training immediately after negative training to utilize this effect. Plyometric workouts incorporate both the eccentric and concentric phase, and are a great way to turn up the intensity of your fitness routine.

Both types of muscle actions (eccentric and concentric) are generally performed with similar absolute intensities; however, a 40-50% greater load can be performed during maximal eccentric actions than during maximum concentric actions. Most studies find greater hypertrophy after eccentric training than after concentric training as assessed by the cross-sectional area of single cells, or of whole muscles.

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“The single biggest mistake that most beginners make is putting 100% of their effort into the positive (concentric) part of the rep, while paying no attention to the negative (eccentric) segment.” – Dorian Yates , 6 time Mr. Olympia winner

Potential benefits of negative work

Several studies have reported that reduced cardiorespiratory and hemodynamic responses when eccentric is compared to concentric at the same workload. The same amount of torque is produced by a muscle during concentric and eccentric contractions, while fewer motor units are recruited during the eccentric contraction.

These results are consistent with investigations illustrated a relatively low ATP turnover and a reduced concentration of metabolites, such as ammonia and lactate during negative work, meaning the body is not using as much energy to do the work. There isn’t a lot of available research on the subject, but due to the low strain on the heart and circulatory system, eccentric training could be very beneficial to patients with known coronary disease or other frail populations.

Types of negative training

There are several ways to do negative training effectively. You can do the overload principle (please use a spotter) where you resist anywhere from 10-40% above your one rep max. For example if you have a 100lb max then it would be appropriate to start with 110-120 lbs. The most common method is resisting the weight down for a count of 6 seconds and have a spotter help return the weight. A 2 to 5 minute rest should be sufficient.

You can do 3 sets of 10, 5 sets of 5, etc. See what works best for you. If you train alone, you can slow the cadence of your return even more, or do exercise where you can move it with the other hand i.e. bicep curls, machine presses. Most people take about 1 second to move the weight and about 2 seconds to return it. Increase the time of return from 6 to 8 seconds and perform an explosive rep to counteract it. This is going to be very challenging.

Limitations of eccentric training

Negative training in its purest form is forced lengthening of the muscles. This has shown to cause more tears in the sarcomeres (muscle tissue) which also leads to enhanced protein synthesis (muscle building). However, since you are loading the muscle to such a degree, you can experience a higher level of delayed onset muscle soreness or worse, tear a muscle.

This, in turn, can keep you out of training. Research has shown that stretching after exercise has little to no effect on DOMS, but it will help with flexibility, and having more elasticity in your muscles and tendons will allow for a higher load and better gains in the long run.

In conclusion

I would recommend adding negative training in your workout once a week if you are overloading, while also slowing down your return in all of your lifts. Research has demonstrated that eccentric training works best with concentric training instead of on its own, as eccentric only produces great functional deficits. For a workout that incorporates both movements, try this plyometric jumping exercise.

I highly recommend negative training is something that you do after a very good warm up. If your muscles are not warmed up sufficiently, they will not be as elastic and you greatly increase your chance of injury. Just like any other form of exercise, this is a progression. Start off with what you can tolerate and move up from there. After a few months of this; you will get bigger, you will get stronger and you will see the positives of negative training.

References

  1. Vinke, H., Refsnes, P.E., Ekmark, M., Medbo, J.I., Gundersen, V., and Gundersen. K. (2006) Muscular Performance after Concentric and Eccentric Exercise in Trained Men. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise., Vol. 38, No. 10, pp, 1770-1781.
  2. Proske, U., and Allen, T. (2005) Damage to Skeletal Muscle from Eccentric Exercise. Exercise and Sport Science Review., Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 98-104.
  3. Parr, J.J., Yarrow, J.F., Garbo, C.M, and Borsa, P.A. (2009) Symptomatic and Functional Responses to Concentric-Eccentric Isokinetic Versus Eccentric-Only Isotonic Exercise. Journal of Athletic Training. Vol. 44(5), pp. 462-468
  4. Roig, M., Shadgan, B., & Reid, W. D. (2008). Eccentric Exercise in Patients with Chronic Health Conditions: A Systematic Review. Physiotherapy Canada,60(2), 146–160.

 

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