Think Negatively for Positive Muscle Gains

The weight goes up, the weight comes down. The weight goes up, the weight comes down. Sound familiar?

Think Negatively for Positive Muscle Gains Sadly for many, the standard rep (weight goes up, weight comes down) is not only familiar, but gospel.

The standard rep, the foundation of bodybuilding, is a building block for proper form and technique and initial hypertrophy. Long term, however, it is an eventual precursor to muscular adaptation leading to size and strength plateaus, nagging program staleness and overall training boredom.

If you are currently suffering from or feeling the onset of any of the above, it may be time to start rethinking your training. You may want to start thinking negatively.

Introducing: The Negative Rep

Negative repetition training is a technique used to vary a training program in order to bust through plateaus. Many experienced lifters will incorporate this form of lifting to alter a current program just enough to continue building lean muscle.

There is no real science behind this technique. Negatives work because you are forcing your body to optimize its natural ability to lower 30% more weight than you can lift. In doing so, you emphasize the extension (or eccentric) movement of a lift, rather than the contraction. As a result, you place an overload on a targeted muscle and cause fibers to lengthen, as lifting becomes the by-product of lowering. This variation ultimately causes neuromuscular confusion, and confusion is what leads to muscle growth.

Similarly, negative reps use type II muscle fibers, which are responsible for strength and speed. By stimulating these fibers, you help your body develop neural adaptations that promote gains in strengths.

  • Negatives can also be incorporated into fat loss programs.
  • Extended negative sets focus on lengthening the muscle and help to incorporate muscular endurance.
  • By adding up to 30% of the weight on the lowering movement, you will witness gains in size, strength and fat loss.
  • The only real downside to performing negative repetitions in the gym is considerable muscle soreness and if performed too frequently, will lead to overtraining.
  • Due to the taxing nature of this training, frequency is highly dependent on training needs and personal training splits. Once you have your goals in mind, you can begin to think negatively.

The Variables of Negative Training

To properly incorporate negative reps into your training program, you will require a reliable training partner or a good spotter who will be responsible for lifting most of the weight that you independently lower.

Next, negative reps should be incorporated within the first half of your training program, or no later than midpoint. Any later and your muscles will already be far too fatigued to benefit from this technique.

The number of sets you perform will also vary depending on what muscle you are targeting. For example, your legs, chest and back should be able to handle 2-3 sets of negative repetitions. Smaller muscles such as arms, shoulders and calves can typically handle 1-2 sets.

Repetitions are largely dependent on load and speed. Keep in mind, however, when performing negatives properly, you should not be able to perform as many repetitions in a negative set as you would in a standard set.

The next variable relates to the speed of lowering the weight. The speed of a negative rep is more or less dependent on personal goals. If your focus is to increase strength, aim to lower the weight for a count of 3-5 seconds. For size (hypertrophy), the eccentric phase should last between 4 and 6 seconds. In a fat loss program, your weight it typically lighter, so your muscles should be able to control the weight for up to but not exceeding 8 seconds. If you find yourself counting to 10, I suggest you stop being a baby and increase the load.

Rest again is dependent on training goals. Like in regular sets, strength requires between 3 and 5 seconds of rest; hypertrophy: 1 to 1.5 minutes; and fat loss: 45 seconds to 1 minute.

This kind of  intense training requires a serious post-workout whey protein isolate powder like ISOFLEX, some intra-workout BCAAs like Aminocore, and a pre-workout stimulant like Razor8 Blast Powder.


  • Diehl, Beau. The Benefits of Negative Repetitions in Bodybuilding and Weight Training, Traverse City Body Building Examiner, December 30, 2010.
Valeria Fazio

Valeria Fazio holds a B.A. Honors degree in history from Carleton University and a diploma in professional writing from Algonquin College. She has been competing in amateur fitness and figure competitions for three years, and has recently qualified for the 2011 Ontario Provincial Figure Championships. As a certified personal trainer and nutritional coach, Valeria helps others in her free time to achieve their fitness goals.

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