This is for you if you
1) Have been training in the gym for a while
2) Want to improve your muscular strength/size
3) Break out of a training plateau
Each muscle group is made up of thousands of muscle fibers (picture those red pull n peel twizzler candies you used to love as a kid).
When we lift something (i.e. grocery bags) we are able to generate this action through our muscle. The muscle fibers can shorten (concentric contraction) and elongate (eccentric contraction). Lifting grocery bags is most similar to doing a bicep curl in the gym for example. As you pick up the weight/bag off the floor, your bicep muscle contracts (shortens).
If you are in the gym and lifting heavy to increase your muscle size or increase strength – Whew! You are pretty relieved by the time you get the weight up to the top. Now you lower the weight back down. You may do this carelessly (hope not) or you may think about lowering it in a similar speed to which you lifted it.
Think about which phase (picking up, or lowering) of the exercise is easier. You may struggle while lifting the weight, but then…. ahhh the eccentric phase (lowering in this case) is much easier (as the downward force of the weight is heavier than the force your muscles are using) – hence you are using less muscle fibers. Using less muscle fibers means less of your muscle is under load, means less of the muscle is being activated. When your goal is to increase strength or size, or just improve and change your training – the goal is to maximize the amount of muscle you use for each repetition. When you aren’t maximizing you are somewhat stunting your progress. So what to do? Just hold the dumbells up in the air and then let go of them mid-air? Ouch!
The answer – Negatives a.k.a. Eccentric Contractions. Switching up your weight training protocol will result in faster gains visually and physiologically.
Here’s what to do:
1) You used to curl 40lb dumbells and do 10-12 repetitions. Now you are training to vary your training to avoid plateau and to increase muscle recruitment so you increase the weight by 5lbs (maybe 8-10lbs depending on your fitness background).
2) You engage your abs, shoulders back, and begin curling the weights up while you count to 2, HOLD.
3) Slowly lower the weights back down – count to FOUR (1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3, etc)
4) Repeat. You will decrease the number of repetitions (because the weight is/should be too heavy. If you are still able to do 10-12 reps no problem… you’re regular weight may be a little low for what you are trying to achieve). Now you can only do 5-8 reps.
5) What you have done is just increased recruitment of muscle fibers, meaning due to the increased weight of the dumbells different muscle fibers turn off SO to keep the weights from dropping to the floor, more, new muscle fibers that are usually falling asleep while you lower the weights back down during your bicep curl – have been turned on i.e. activated. i.e. getting worked!
Negative repetitions can be used with all exercises: i.e.
Shoulder press, Tricep dips, Lat Pulldown, Bench Press, Squats.
Incorporate negatives slowly into your training (not all at once).
Don’t increase the weight too much. If you find your regular weight heavy enough, hold off until you build up more strength before trying negatives.
Worst case scenario – you can only complete 2-3 reps… which to me = awesome. Now you have a goal for next time – 4 reps!