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Negatives are a great way to add more intensity into your workouts and overload the muscle groups engaged in the exercises you are performing. Negatives are performed by controlling the tempo of the repetition and slowing down the lowering phase of the lift to an approximate 3-5 seconds rep count.
And because we can eccentrically lower and control approximately 25% more than you can lift (concentric phase – shortening the muscle under tension, example: locking out a bench press), heavier weights can be used for negatives.
The majority of muscle fiber damage – or microtrauma – occurs during the eccentric phase. This damage causes the muscles to adapt, which will build bigger muscles and help you to get stronger. This is why lifters who are trying to build more muscle, use negatives to overload the muscles a different way and push through plateaus in the gym.
Negatives are typically done AFTER the primary work is complete for the main exercise.
If you are performing 3-4 sets for bench press, 1-2 sets of negatives will be done AFTER all of the bench work is done. See example below.
You would use the weight on the bar from the last set of your heaviest bench for the negatives set. Just rest around 1 minute after your last set and then perform the 1-2 sets of negatives.
That is one way you can use negatives. Another way would be to add a few negative reps at the end of every set. For example, if you are performing bicep curls and the set calls for 12 reps, perform slower negatives for the last 3 reps. Each rep should have a controlled negative, but you can extend the length of the lower phase another 3-5 seconds to emphasize the tension on the muscle.
This will be a great way to end the set strong and blow out your muscles. I wouldn’t recommend this intra-set technique for the bigger lifts – like bench, squat, or deadlift – but for all of your accessory work, negatives can be used often to really push you in the workout and overload the working muscle groups.
Negatives are very taxing to the CNS and to your muscles, so you need to look at your training volume for the week and understand how quickly you’re recovering between workouts. If you are on a 4-5 day training split, using negatives every other workout should be ok. If you are training 3-4 days a week, incorporating negatives into every workout, shouldn’t be a problem. Just listen to your body and adjust the weights you’re using for each exercise according to how you feel during your initial warm-up sets.
Meet the Lift Doctor
Jim Smith is a highly respected, world-renowned strength and conditioning coach. A member of the LIVESTRONG.com Fitness Advisory Board, Jim has been called one of the most “innovative strength coaches” in the fitness industry. Training athletes, fitness enthusiasts and weekend warriors, Jim has dedicated himself to helping them reach “beyond their potential.” He is also the owner of Diesel Strength & Conditioning in Elmira, NY.