I might have once scoffed at the notion of implementing negatives into my weights routine but I quickly grew to believe in them. So much so that I’m now happy to dedicate an article to the importance of negative contractions in the eccentric range of motion!
Pushing and Pulling
Our muscles always pull even when the body moves in a way that may appear as if the act performed is pushing.
During both the downward and upward phases of the bench press, the muscles of the body are always pulling their insertion points towards their origins. In the upward phase of the bench press, the triceps are the primary movers, or the agonist, and are actively pulling on their insertion point, located on the forearm, to their point of origin which is located on the humerus.
Also in the upward phase of the bench press, the pectoralis major is also the primary mover as it pulls its insertion point, at the coracoid process of the scapula, toward its origin on the sternum.
The third antagonist is the anterior deltoid. In the downward phase, the anterior deltoid, triceps and chest all actively contract in the eccentric range of motion.
Everything that applies to the chest press can be applied to the pushup as well. The only difference is that the pushup is a closed-chain movement since the body is being moved, whereas the bench press is open-chained because an external load is being moved. The fact that the joint closest the ground, the wrist, provides the base for which the joint above it can move to assist in taking on a force is what also makes the pushup a closed-chain movement.
Whenever one muscle is a primary mover, another is contracting passively on the opposite side.
For the bench press, if the triceps are actively contracting, then the biceps are passively contracting. When the chest muscles are actively shortening and lengthening then the back musculature is contracting passively on the other side. Muscles that contract passively are antagonists.
All muscles can contract eccentrically and concentrically. This applies to the entire body in addition to musculature covered in this article.
Anything one muscle can do, another muscle can undo.
Muscles can also contract without movement
During an isometric contraction, muscles experience a change in tension and maintain a constant length. If one wanted to isometrically contract the triceps and chest, they would simply maintain a plank position in a closed-kinetic chain exercise or perform an open-kinetic chain exercise of holding the barbell up at the halfway point of a bench press and keeping it there until muscle fatigue sets in.
The bench press exercise works those same muscle groups but isotonically because muscle length changes while tension remains constant.
The concentric phase is the shortening of muscle length during an isotonic contraction while the muscle lengthens during the eccentric phase. The upward phase is the concentric phase where both the muscles fibers of the chest and triceps shorten.
Eccentric contractions at the chest and triceps occur during the downward phase. As said, during this time the biceps and back muscles on the opposite sides are passively contracting. Should one want to emphasize the eccentric range of motion without doing negatives, they could lessen the rate at which the bar is lowered on a bench press. They can also take a slight pause at the midway point to put the muscles under tension for a longer period of time; this is known is the Time Under Tension principle (TUT).
Reaching Plateau & Breaking Through
After an unspecified period of time performing a particular exercise, a person will reach a point of plateau. Once that takes place it is termed as a specific adaptation to imposed demand or the SAID principle. This would be when one is unable to lift any heavier of a weight on the bench press.
A great way to break through such plateaus is to practice eccentric negatives. It is noteworthy that for maximum safety and efficiency that such movements should be done within the physical limits of the practitioner as well as with a spotter or qualified fitness professional. This reduces the likelihood of injury.
Using a barbell to perform the negative movement bilaterally is safer than using dumbbells to perform the bench press unilaterally.
At first, the bilateral eccentric negative exercise should be performed above the plateau weight. Then the unilateral eccentric negative exercise should be performed. After that, the time to attempt performing the exercise in the full range of the isotonic contraction has arrived. At this point, one should observe greater strength gains.
Negative Contractions – Proof That Negatives can be Positives!
When one chooses to perform negatives, they are indeed making that day the exact opposite of the general perception of a negative. But. like anything worthwhile, it takes desire and effort.
A Negatives Day is the antithesis of a soft and fluffy day where one opts to avoid any challenging exercises. People doing negatives in the gym have definitely not chosen to take it nice and easy that day. They are working for and reaching real gains.
I have tried both concentric negatives and eccentric negatives which has lead me to one conclusion…
The greatest strength gains are seen when the emphasis is put on the eccentric range of motion.
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