The word "negative" often implies pessimism and gloom. In the gym, however, performing "negatives" or eccentric reps yields positive sports performance-enhancing, muscle-building and injury-preventive results!
Mark Coberley, Iowa State University's Associate Athletic Director for Sports Medicine, told Athletic Business that "eccentric exercise is being pushed quite a bit in both the strength and conditioning world and the sports medicine world because of its importance in injury prevention and also performance." He adds that many non-contact ACL injuries, for instance, are deceleration-related injuries (meaning they occur during the eccentric movement), and the goal therefore is to prevent injury during deceleration.
Athletes and non-athletes commonly focus on how much weight they can explosively push, press, pull or squat during the muscle-shortening phase of each exercise (which is known as the concentric portion of the movement) and minimize the equally significant muscle-lengthening phase (which is known as the eccentric portion) of the movement. Think of it like this: The eccentric portion of a Barbell Squat is you lowering into the squat position, while the concentric portion of a Barbell Squat is you exploding from that squatted position into a standing position.
While explosive concentric movements definitely improve strength and power, simply slowing down your average eccentric rep tempo can have great benefits. Not only is it in many cases safer, as a slower eccentric can help eliminate the poor technique that contributes to joint and muscle injuries, but it can also mean more productive and intense reps and ultimately greater muscle growth. Enhanced power and flexibility are also two known benefits of eccentric-focused training.
And emphasizing slower muscle-lengthening eccentric rep tempo in the weight room may also mimic protective benefits on the field, court or ice where gradually decreasing the muscle-lengthening eccentric deceleration speed (instead of abrupt stops) may indeed help decrease sports-related injuries. A University of California-Berkeley Wellness letter states there's evidence eccentric training may help tendon injuries (such as chronic tendinitis) heal more effectively than standard treatment practices.
The following two full-body workouts are a great opportunity for you to focus on accentuating eccentric reps. Workout 1 involves bodyweight-only movements. Workout 2 is comprised of free weight exercises. Illustrating eccentric reps for certain exercises include the downward or lowering movement of Squats, Bench Presses, Push-Ups, Upright Rows, Curls or Pull-Ups, for instance.
- Portable bench
- Parallel Dip bars
- Squat rack
- Pull-Up bar (or racked barbell on safety pins for substituting Inverted Rows)
- Two moderately-heavy dumbbells (dbs)or a plated barbell (bb) (70-80% RM)
- Water bottle
- Hydrate before, during and after workouts.
- Perform a dynamic lower and upper body warm-up (e.g., Lunges with Arm Circles).
- Finish with cooldown lower- and upper-body static stretches for greater range of motion and flexibility.
Both of these workouts utilize longer time under tension (TUT), a weight training principle for optimizing the hypertrophy generally produced when muscles are under tension for a lengthier period during each set. Perform these workouts on non-consecutive days for adequate recovery. You can diversity these workouts by periodically switching the exercise sequence. Some free weight exercises may require a spotter (unless using safety pins on a rack).
Workout 1: Bodyweight Blow-Out
Perform the following four exercises in circuit fashion. Perform six reps per set and complete four total circuits. Upon completing a circuit, rest for 60 seconds. Utilize a rep temp of: 6-1-2 (six seconds eccentric; one second pause; two seconds concentric). Note: For added intensity and muscle growth, count for 10 seconds instead of six seconds during the eccentric phase of the final rep in each set.
1. Either Pull-Ups or Inverted Rows (Choose one exercise and do the other next bodyweight workout).
2. Either Push-Ups or Bar Dips (Choose one exercise and do the other in a subsequent bodyweight workout).
3. Squats (with the arms held overhead)
4. Bulgarian Split Squats (Do six reps with your left rear foot atop the bench, then six reps with the right foot on the bench. Ensure your knees and fingers touch the floor on each descent).
Workout 2: Free Weight Frenzy
Perform the following four exercises in circuit fashion. Perform six reps per set and complete four total circuits. Upon completing a circuit, rest for 60 seconds. Utilize a rep tempo of: 6-1-2 (six seconds eccentric; one second pause; two seconds concentric). Note: For added intensity and muscle growth, count for 10 seconds instead of six seconds during the eccentric phase of the final rep in each set.
1. Either BB Squats or Deadlifts (Choose one and do the other exercise in a subsequent free weight workout).
2. Bench Press or DB Presses
3. DB or BB Bent-Over Rows
4. Either DB or BB Overhead Presses or DB or BB Upright Rows (Choose one exercise and do the other next free weight workout).
Photo Credit: Ibrakovic/iStock, MichaelSvoboda/iStock
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