Not Building Strength or Muscle? Go Negative!

Get strong and push thru sticking points by loading up the weight and going negative…Watch the video.  (And check out the “Homestead Workout“!)

THOUGH YOU wouldn’t necessarily observe it in most weight rooms, there’s a science to lifting weights for muscle building, strength building, or both.

At the gym you’ll see the majority of people lifting weights with techniques (and I apply that term liberally) that produce neither strength or muscle.

How many people have you observed at the gym over the years that have steadily improved their bodies?  Have you improved yours?

Sure, if you’ve never done resistance training, you may get stronger and more buff at first, if you don’t get bored or injured, but wouldn’t it be mighty fine if you adopted some techniques that are efficient and sustainable?

If you’ve hit a plateau with your weight lifting, meaning you’ve been stuck at the same level of strength and muscle for some time, here’s a tip to help you blast through to a higher peak — GO NEGATIVE.

By “negative”, I mean add more weight to your exercise and slow down the negative portion of the two-way movement (contraction/extension). Go slow, real slow.  Start with a weight that you can resist for eight seconds and stay with that weight till you can handle it for 12 seconds before increasing the weight.

What’s does “negative” mean in relationship to weight lifting or resistance training?

Think of it like this: When muscles “contract” they’re shortening; whereas, when they “extend”, they’re lengthening during the “eccentric” portion of the movement. Muscles like the lats, arm and leg biceps contract when they pull.  Muscles like those in the chest, triceps, shoulders and quadriceps contract when they push.

Whether the muscle is one that “pulls” or “pushes”, when it lengthens it is performing the “negative”(eccentric) portion of the lifting action. Press a weight over your head and you’re contracting your deltoids as the weight movers overhead in the positive portion of the lift.  When you subsequently let the weight return to your chest, your deltoids lengthen as you perform the negative portion of the lift.

Illustration of man's muscular structure with muscles named

In every case, your muscle can resist more weight in the negative phase than it can in the positive (contraction) phase of a lift. We experience this all the time when we sit down on something that’s low.  It’s easier to sit down than to stand up.

Although this negative technique could be effective with most any type of exercise for any muscle, I suggest you just use it for compound exercises as applied to the major muscle groups.

Major muscle groups would include chest, shoulders, lats and legs.  Compound exercises mean those lifts that involve more than one muscle group.  For instance, a leg squat activates muscle fibers in three major muscle groups: the “quads” (quadriceps in the front of the leg), hamstrings and gluts (butt muscle).  The bench press focuses on the chest muscle, or “pecs” (pectorals major), but also activates muscle fiber in the frontal “delts” (deltoids in the shoulder) and triceps (back of the arm opposing the biceps in the front).

Now if you visualize this negative lift, hopefully what will quickly occur to you is that there’s a problem that must be solved BEFORE you begin the lift.  And that is, if the weight is heavier than usual, how will you handle it?

You need someone or something to help you with the “positive” portion of the lift (when your muscle is contracting), and then let the superior strength you have in the negative portion (when your muscles are lengthening) to resist the push or pull of the weight during an eight-plus second count in the negative direction.  (See the first video below.)

How this is done depends on the equipment you’re using and whether you have someone to assist you.  If a clear method is not obvious to you given what equipment you have to work with, I strongly suggest you ask assistance of an expert at your gym.

Now, here are some videos to give you some ideas on how to do this.

In this video, a person performs “negatives” bicep training.  You’ll note that he does not handle the contraction part of the exercise (curling the weight to his shoulders) by himself.


This video is more extensive and demonstrates how to incorporate the negative lift along with the positive; meaning, that you’re not being helped to do the positive portion of the lift.  The weight, then, needs to be lighter.



I caution you to be careful with weight selection and to ease into this new method. You can handle a lot more weight in the negative portion of a lift.  If you select too heavy a weight, you potentially create two problems:

1. How to deal with the positive (contracting) part of the lift, and

2. Injuring yourself by overloading the muscles with weight they’re unaccustomed to handling.


At first, try this technique with the amount of weight you usually use. Just slow down the negative portion of the lift and see how it feels. If you typically do 10 repetitions, you’ll now do far fewer, even if you do not perform the “positive” part of the lift. You may, therefore, want to reduce the weight.

If, however, you have assistance with the positive portion of the lift, and consequently only need to put effort in slowing down the negative portion, you may want to add weight. But first get used to this new approach with weight that is not overwhelming.

You can also try it with calisthenics.
Do push-ups and squats without weight.  Go ten seconds in the “negative” direction and your normal cadence when contracting the muscles (pushing up in this case).

Replace one of your typical weight lifting workouts with this negative technique no more than once a week until you’re accustomed to it. Thereafter, you can add it to a workout, or try spending a week each month just doing the negative workouts.

Be steady, mindful and careful.

Use the Comments section below to let readers know how it works for you.


Last Updated on April 19, 2020 by Joe Garma

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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

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