Negative reps (also called eccentric training) is one of the many tools lifters can use to get stronger, build muscle, and help break through a plateau in training and performance in the gym.
What exactly is a “negative” rep?
Well, you might think it’s a repetition performed when you’re in a foul mood, but that’s not quite the case.
You see, every repetition you perform is divided into two different phases:
- Concentric -- contraction of the working muscle which raises the weight, and
- Eccentric -- elongation of the working muscle which lowers the weight
Using everyone’s favorite exercise -- the bicep curl -- as an example:
The concentric part of the lift is when you flex the elbow and bring the dumbbell up to your shoulder. The eccentric phase of the lift occurs when you begin to extend the elbow and lower the weight back down to the starting position.
In a squat, the eccentric portion of the lift would be lowering down into the bottom of the squat, while the concentric phase would be driving out of the hole and standing upright.
Now, when it comes to resistance-training, we usually tend to focus on the “lifting” (concentric” phase of each exercise, but we’re about to show you why you may want to start paying extra attention to the eccentric phase.
Benefits of Negative Reps
You’re Stronger in the Eccentric Phase
Research has demonstrated that we are significantly stronger during the eccentric phase of an exercise than the concentric.[1,2]
More specifically, studies have found that athletes are capable of exerting between 20-60% more force during the eccentric phase of an exercise compared to the concentric phase.
What this means is that if you’re currently stuck in a plateau in your training program, using some overloading eccentrics (with the help of a partner, of course), can help your body build strength and get accustomed to handling heavier loads which will pay dividends to improved performance during the concentric portion of the lift down the road.
Build More Muscle
Research shows that eccentric training recruits more fast-twitch fibers.
As you may (or may not) know, fast-twitch fibers are the muscle fibers that have the greatest potential for size and strength.
Subsequent studies have found that negative reps combined with blood flow restriction (BFR) resulted in significant muscle growth, which can be ideal for those working around an injury.
Reduces Risk of Injury
Training with negative reps forces you to put the ego-lifting aside (jerking and throwing weights) and forces the body to lower the weight using control and perfect form. We all know that using momentum during an exercise both reduces its muscle-building potential and increases the likelihood we’ll suffer injury.
Research has shown that eccentric training lowers the risk of recurring injuries as well as the development of new ones.
Furthermore, negative reps also help reduce the risk of injury due to the heightened focus on proper technique.
Strengthens Ligaments & Tendons
In addition to building bigger, stronger muscles, negative reps also help make your connective tissue (ligaments and tendons) more resilient, fortifying them against strain and injury. This is especially important for field sport athletes who subject their bodies to explosive forces repeatedly each and every day.
Believe it or not, negative reps can actually increase your flexibility.
The reason this happens is due to the fact that the negative phase of the lift increases the length of your muscles by increasing the number of sarcomeres in series within the muscle. For those of you unaware, sarcomeres are the most basic unit of striated muscle tissue.
Basically, negative reps not only make your muscles stronger but more flexible, too, which helps give the lean and toned look many gym-goers are after.
Performing both the eccentric and concentric phases of the lift can be very fatiguing to the muscle. What’s more, most of the ATP consumed during a repetition occurs when you’re contracting the muscle fibers.
The beauty of negative reps is that it helps increase the size and strength of your muscles while conserving ATP.
How Often Should I Perform Negative Reps?
As great as negative reps are (and as useful as they can be for busting through a plateau), they do come with two drawbacks:
- They create greater amounts of muscle damage (which can increase recovery time following training)
- They are very taxing to the CNS
What this means is that you need to be judicious with the use and application of negative reps. Performing them too frequently or too much within a single training session can result in excessive muscle damage, extreme soreness, and potential overtraining.
If you’re following a classic 4 or 5-day training split, you can incorporate negatives every other workout and not really worry about overtraining.
If you’re only training 3 days per week, you should be fine using some negative reps each workout.
How to Perform Negative Reps
Our preferred way to incorporate negative reps into our workouts is to pick one exercise that you would like to improve and perform a set of 8-10 reps using slow, controlled eccentrics.
Due to the fact that negative reps require a great deal of focus, strength, and coordination, it’s generally recommended to put them towards the beginning half of your workout when your freshest. It also helps to have a trusty training partner by your side to assist with the concentric portion of the lift so that you can devote all your energy and efforts to the negatives.
Negative reps are a great tool for helping break through a training plateau all the while building muscle and strength. They also help improve flexibility and may reduce the rate of injury occurrence.
At the same time, negative reps can be very draining to the CNS, making it all the more important that you are judicious in your use and application of them in your training program. Pick one exercise per workout and perform one set of heavy eccentrics. Then, carry on with the rest of your normal training program.
After the workout, make sure to have a post-workout shake with 1UP Nutrition whey protein to supply your muscles with protein to help rebuild and repair the damage done by negative reps!
- Hollander, D., Kraemer, R., Kilpatrick, M., Ramadan, Z., Reeves, G., Francois, M., Hebert, E., Tryniecki, J. 2007. Maximal eccentric and concentric strength discrepancies between young men and women for dynamic resistance exercise. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 21(1): 34-40
- Kelly, S., Brown, L., Hooker, S., Swan, P., Buman, M., Alvar, B., Black, L. 2015. Comparison of concentric and eccentric bench press repetitions to failure. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research29(4): 1027-32
- Nardone A, Romanò C, Schieppati M. Selective recruitment of high-threshold human motor units during voluntary isotonic lengthening of active muscles. J Physiol. 1989;409:451–471. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.1989.sp017507
- Pope, Z., Willardson, J., Schoenfeld, B., Emmett, J., Owen, J. 2015. Hypertrophic and Strength Response to Eccentric Resistance Training with Blood Flow Restriction: A Pilot Study. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching 10(5): 919-931
- Petersen, J., Thorborg, K., Nielsen, M., Budtz-Jorgensen, Holmich, P. 2011. Preventative effect of eccentric training on acute hamstring injuries in men's soccer: a cluster-randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Sports Medicine 39(11): 2296-303