Once you have completed a bench press or a bicep curl are you kind the person who just lets gravity takeover as you return to your original position? If you are guilty of this then you are doing yourself a great disservice. Negative reps, also known as negatives, are the eccentric contractions of an exercise that are often disregarded, despite possessing the power to drastically improve the size and strength of our muscles. 

As I’m sure you are aware, our muscles do their building during the recovery stage and the amount they build depends on how much they have to repair. What our bodies are repairing is the microtrauma that occurs during exercise. Negatives provide the perfect opportunity to maximise this trauma and therefore build thicker muscle fibres every single time you workout.

So clearly it isn’t in your best interest to just rush through your eccentric contractions, letting gravity do all the work for you. The way to counter this is obvious: slow it down. If you slow down your negative reps then you will be working against gravity, not with it. But there is a point at which you can go to slow as well. You will probably hear and see a lot of conflicting information on exactly how long you should spend on the eccentric contraction but somewhere between three and five seconds is considered adequate.

The problem a lot of people have is that they just don’t believe that both parts of the movement can be as beneficial as one another. When you are lifting that weight up, whatever the exercise is, you can clearly see the weight resisting your movement and that helps motivate you to push against it. Now the same certainly cannot be said of negatives. Your movement is in the exact same direction as where the weight would go if you dropped it. So surely just guiding back down isn’t really doing any work?

Well I don’t want to have to go over high school physics but the important factor here is gravity. It doesn’t matter whether you are moving the weight upwards, downwards or side-to-side. Gravity is always trying to pull that object to the centre of the Earth. What we are doing is just resisting that force. And that can be done by either pushing against it, or by fighting it on the way down.

Isolating negatives is another great way of incorporating them into your workout and it is definitely where they are more commonly found. The idea here is to basically ignore the concentric part of the exercise and skip straight to the eccentric. There is one very simple reason why people choose to do this. It means you can use heavier weights than your one rep max of a complete exercise, while still being able to complete the desired number of reps and sets. But just remember you need a spotter if you are going to isolate negatives so that the weight can be returned to the starting position each time without you having to incorporate concentric exercise.

So whether you choose to just be more aware of negatives as you workout, or if you choose to isolate them completely, what you can see is that they do have a part to play and they shouldn’t be dismissed from the outset. I’m not saying that you won’t see results if you are just letting gravity do the work but what I am saying is that as soon as you start to oppose that force, the rate at which you see your results has to increase.

Ollie Lawrence
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