If you are in our gym at any point in time, you will often here me yelling, “control the negative” again…and again…and again thoughout a typical training session. Typically this session involves 8-10 young males that are 14-17 years of age. Why do I yell this? Because the lowering or “negative” (eccentric to you Mr. Fancypants) portion of the lift is the most crucial component, if you are interested in actually getting bigger and stronger. If you are concerned with just “completing a lift” then dive bomb, bounce, twist, and squirm away in order to achieve “greatness.”
Legendary strength pioneer Arthur Jones, the godfather of HIT and founder of Nautilus, had a saying, “it’s not how much weight you can lift, but how much weight you can lower.” Think about that for a second. Let it marinate. How many times do you see someone in the gym “complete a lift” by concentrically lifting the weight, with little or no concern for the negative? Often times, sadly, this load was far too heavy for this individual. I am sure you see this phenomenon all the time! Now how many times have you seen someone lift a weight, under control, that is “too heavy”? Sure, this person may hit muscular failure, but at least he is in control of the weight!
Often times, the load used by most gym goers is far too heavy, and is being lifted in an unsafe manner that is certain to cause undue strain on the connective tissue surrounding the various joints on his body. You may be able to get away with that when you are 19, but if you plan on lifting for life, try doing that in your 30’s and 40’s…not fun! Better yet, spare yourself the joint pain when you are older, and lift with proper form NOW. Here are some tips, along with some reasons why you should emphasize the negative in training.
1.) Initial movement. I see this a lot with younger clients, but many people have no idea how to lower a weight. They will often spastically “drop” the weight, realize what they are doing, and then slow it down. You can hear the weight plates moving when this is occurring on a barbell exercise. You should be resisting the load as you lower it. Hence the term resistance training. Squeeze it down, and then unleash the gates of hell as you begin to press it back up.
2.) Rep speed. We have all read about the magical “4 second negative” in training. I have never seen anyone use a full 4 second negative, not even HIT guys. Try counting to 3 in your head as you lower the resistance smoothly. This usually amounts to about a full 2 second descent. Don’t look like an elevator stopping at 3 different floors as you count to 3. Also, do not count to 3 at the top, and then plummet to the bottom. Be smart, and lower the resistance evenly throughout a full range of motion. Check out the video below of pro bodybuilder Shawn Bellon squatting 675x3 with only a belt and knee wraps. Do you think he is going to plummet to the ground faster than a meteor falling from the sky with 700 lbs on his back? Hell no! If it is good enough for a pro bodybuilder, it is good enough for you!
3.) Training Efficiency. When you perform proper repetitions that emphasize the negative, you have to perform far less work to induce size and strength gains, because the QUALITY of the set is much higher. Clients are often amazed at how sore they get from 1-2 sets of properly performed strength training with accentuated negatives. Go ahead and perform 4-5 sets of 10 with essentially concentric only reps, but I would hardly say that this is the most efficient, safe, and effective way to train.
4.) Joint Health. It is a known fact that the eccentric portion of the lift improves tendon strength. We know that when we train using a proper negative, we can’t use as much weight. We also know that training in this fashion will eliminate ballistic, “bouncing” movements at the bottom of the lift, preventing unnecessary joint strain. Stronger tendons and joints that feel better? Count me in!
5.) Increased Type II muscle fiber recruitment. Contrary to popular belief, by slowing down the negative you will actually recruit and develop MORE fast twitch muscle fiber than you would without emphasizing the negative. Without going to in depth into the physiology of this, you are capable of producing more force eccentrically than you are concentrically (the “lifting” portion). If you only focus on speed of movement through the concentric portion, you are certainly using your Type IIs, but you are not developing them optimally. By focusing on the negative, and in some cases, performing negative only repetitions, you will maximize the development of your type II muscle fibers, which will in turn allow you to produce more force concentrically.
To learn more about this phenomenon, read up on the Henneman Size Principle.
Lastly, it just looks cooler when you control a heavy weight and dominate it. Slow down your negatives, get stronger, and start growing!