What is Negative Training?

Shelby Miller

Negative training is a weight-lifting technique in which only the eccentric or lowering phase of a repetition is performed. Often employed with the assistance of a partner, this style of training can be done using dumbbells, barbells, or machine weights, with the partner aiding in the concentric or lifting phase of the movement and the lifter performing the lowering phase on his own. It can also be done alone, however, to increase one’s strength on bodyweight exercises like chin-ups and dips. The purpose of negative training is to achieve gains in strength greater than those that can be achieved through traditional lifting methods alone.

Negative training can be employed in the bench press.
Negative training can be employed in the bench press.

Most strength-training exercises employ two phases of movement: the concentric and eccentric phase. Concentric refers to the lifting phase of an exercise in which the muscle shortens, as in the curling of a dumbbell during a biceps curl. Eccentric refers to the lowering phase, which is when the muscle lengthens and resists both gravity and the weight itself. This is what allows a person to lower a weight back down without simply letting it fall, as in the biceps curl; the concept also applies to the lowering of one’s body weight during a squat or following a chin-up. Negative training supports the idea that muscles are stronger eccentrically than concentrically, and that challenging them with heavier weights on the lowering movement will result in strength gains that make the muscles stronger in both directions over time.

Negative training is often employed with the assistance of a partner.
Negative training is often employed with the assistance of a partner.

An example of an exercise during which negative training can be employed is the bench press. Because this training style allows the lifter to attempt weights he normally could not lift on his own, a weight slightly heavier than his one repetition maximum, or one rep max, should be selected. One rep max refers to the maximum amount of weight one can lift in a single repetition of an exercise; experts recommend exceeding this number by five percent for a set of negatives. In other words, if 200 pounds is the lifter’s one rep max, he should begin with 210 pounds.

To make this training style effective, a low number of repetitions should be performed — ideally no more than six. If more than six reps can be completed with the weight selected, more weight should be added. Additionally, two to four sets of a single exercise should be enough to reach muscle fatigue, as should one negative exercise per muscle group. Rest periods between sets should last anywhere from two to four minutes to ensure optimum recovery.

To employ negative training on the bench press, one should lie on the bench and lift the bar off the rack with the assistance of a spotter. He should then slowly lower the bar to his chest, taking a minimum of three and as many as six seconds to perform the eccentric phase of the movement, resisting the weight and gravity as the bar comes down. Once he gets to the bottom of the movement, his partner should assist him in quickly pushing the weight back up to the start position. The lifter should perform as many repetitions as he can in this style, increasing the weight on subsequent sets if he is able to exceed six repetitions.

Negative training may be performed using weight machines.
Negative training may be performed using weight machines.

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