Back in the late 80's, I was about 18 years old and I vividly remember being stuck in a bench press plateau.
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I just couldn't get past the 300 pound mark.
I trained hard and heavy and never missed a workout but for some reason, I just couldn't budge on the bench press.
This went on for about 2 months and I started to get seriously discouraged. It was around this time that one of the gym owners asked me what the problem was. I told him that I just couldn't get out of this rut.
He asked me what I was doing and I told him that I was benching Monday, Wednesday, and Friday doing singles each and every workout. He asked me what I was eating, how much water I was drinking, what my daily schedule was, and how much rest I was getting. One of the main things he pointed out to me was that I was benching too much and needed a long rest from it. This was key.
The second thing he told me was to bench heavy only once per week - No more no less. The third thing, I had to increase my calorie intake by 1,000 each and every day. The fourth thing, I had to drink a lot more water and get at least 8 hours of sleep per night.
I was instructed to take 2 weeks off from all weight training. He told me that if he saw me at the gym, he was going to kick me out! Well, I took two weeks off and when I came back, I was on fire and ready to hit the weights, especially the bench press. To my disappointment, I was instructed not to the bench press for 3 weeks! Imagine that, not being able to do the bench press for almost a month!
Anyways, I’m not going to get into the whole story here since this article is about negatives, you can read about my bench press story here. Suffice to say, after about 12 weeks of doing what he told me to do, I added about 50 pounds to my bench press.
One of my biggest jumps came from the two to three weeks of “negative” training. After about 3 weeks or so with this kind of training, I added about 25 pounds to my bench press. I soon learned the power of negative training and really applied this method and I really took off on the bench press.
At the time, I had no clue what negative training was. I learned quickly and applied the techniques with each week. I have to tell you, this is one of the most powerful techniques I have ever used for massive strength gains. However, it has also been one of the most detrimental to my training. That sounds a little contradictory so allow me to explain.
Negative weight training is a technique that focus’ on the eccentric part of a particular movement. For example, the bench press has two parts to the movement, a concentric phase and an eccentric phase. The eccentric part of the bench press is when you lower the weight down to your chest. Your muscles are lengthening and going with gravity. See the image below:
The concentric part of the bench press is when your muscles are shortening and you are pressing the weight upwards. This is the contractual part of the movement.
Give it a try now. Hold both arms in front of you and lower them to your chest. You will notice that your muscles are lengthening. Now, push your arms forward and you will notice that your muscles are contracting. They are shortening in length in order to get the weight up.
Now, negatives concentrate on the eccentric part of the movement or the lowering of the weight to the chest, as in our bench press example. Research has shown that we are much more stronger in the eccentric part of certain movements such as the bench press. In fact, over 60 years ago, *Bernhard Katz and Archibald Vivian Hill determined that our bodies force “steeply rises” when our muscles are in the eccentric part of a movement as compared to the concentric part.
Another study called "Concentric and Eccentric Quadriceps Contractions", from the "Journal of Sports Science, 20(2), p83-91", measured the amount of muscle fibre activity during concentric and eccentric movements. Each motion was measured with an electromyography (EMG). The study concluded that during maximal, eccentric contractions recruited the most fast twitch fibres. As we know, fast twitch fibres are what generates explosive strength. Building muscle and power requires a lot of fast twitch fibre recruitment.
What does this mean? It means we can handle a hell of a lot more weight going down than when we are pressing up because our bodies rely more on fast twitch fibre activity. It only makes sense that if you want to build more power and explosive strength, the more fast twitch fibre you want to employ.
Which brings me to negative training. By using heavier than normal weight and focussing strictly on eccentric movements, we can potentially enhance our fast twitch fibre activity which is the basis for power. I’ve personally experienced this phenomenon with the bench press. I’ve used negative training on a few occasions and the results have been exceptional. Each time I’ve used negative training, my strength gains improved, sometimes dramatically.
However, this is very important to point out. There is such a thing as having too much of a good thing. I’ve tried using negative training exclusively for the bench press and it doesn’t work for the long term. Constantly bombarding your body with heavy than normal weight causes it to break down. Research has shown that eccentric training can be one of the main causes for muscle soreness. I’ll be straight with you, negative training puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the body and can easily lead to overtraining, and possibly injury if you abuse this technique.
I strongly recommend you use negative training for no more than 4 weeks, 5 weeks tops.
Also, negative training only works with certain movements. I find pressing movements are best. I certainly don’t recommend you use negative training for all of your movements. It works fine for the bench press, incline press, chins and shoulder press. Don’t try this technique with squats, I don’t care what anybody says, it’s not safe. Remember, you need a spotter at all times and someone who knows what they’re doing.
You have to keep in mind, your going to be using some pretty heavy weight that only comes down using your own strength but it doesn’t come up without the help of a seasoned spotter. If you have a training buddy and he/she doesn’t really know how to spot, get someone else.
Very Important! Eccentric training/negative is not for beginners. This is a very advanced technique so if you’re just starting out, don’t try it.
How To Do Negative Training For Massive Bench Press Gains
In order to get the most from negative training, you have to apply the correct poundages, use proper technique, and get the timing down. Since negative training uses very heavy weight, you will need to be properly warmed up. I strongly suggest you do 5 to 10 minutes of light cardio to get your heart pumping and get the blood flowing. Afterwards, do about 5 minutes of light stretching.
Remember, you want to boost your bench press, so your going to be training chest first and your going to be using the bench press as your starting exercise, although in might be a good idea to do a couple of sets of light pec deck or fly’s to warm the chest and shoulders up. Also, you might want to do some rotator cuff exercises here before you start.
To start, you will want to use a weight that you can’t get a single with but light enough to allow you to lower the weight by yourself. For example, let’s say you can get a single with 220 pounds. Your starting negative weight will be around 230 to 240 pounds. You will probably have to do a little bit of experimenting to find the right weight to use which will probably be your first couple of sessions. Try and aim for a 110% to maybe a 120% increase in weight. This should set you up with the correct poundages for your negatives. When do you know it’s time to increase the weight? When you are able to comfortably perform 6 repetitions. Once this happens, you will need to throw on another 20 pounds or so and start over.
I suggest you do a progression as follows:
1 x 20 repetitions - warm up - 45% of your maximum;
1 x 12 repetitions - warm up - 55% of your maximum;
1 x 6 repetitions - 65% to 70% of your maximum;
Remember, this is a warm up and you don’t want to go all out on these sets because you want to save all of your strength for the negatives.
2 to 3 sets of 4 to 6 negatives - Maximum poundages. Don’t do anymore than 3 negative sets.
It’s imperative that you use proper technique and perfect form. The bench press is a great mass builder only if it’s done right. Since your going to be using very heavy weight, you have to be extra careful not to injure yourself so this means keeping the weight controlled at all times. Keep your head and ass on the bench and properly align yourself with the bar. Don’t ever bounce the weight off your chest. For more information about properly setting yourself up for the bench press, click here.
Timing is very important when your doing negatives. When you lower the bar, you should be doing it very slowly. It should take you anywhere from 3 to 6 seconds to correctly lower the weight to your chest. This is vitally important! Research has shown that slow, eccentric contractions employ more fast twitch fibres which is what you want. The more fast twitch fibres you stimulate, the better it is for strength gains. Once the bar is lowered, lightly kiss your sternum and press upwards.
This is where your spotter comes in and helps you lift the weight. A word of caution - Use a spotter who knows what their doing. The bar should never stop or pause on the way up. The spotter shouldn’t be helping you when the weight is being lowered. This should be all you. If you need help with this part of the movement, the weight is too heavy so you need to lighten the load.
Take a look at the video below:
My thanks for Muscle and Strength.com for the video.
As you can see, the weight comes down in a slow, controlled motion. There’s no bouncing, no jerking, or other messy movements. This is how you want to do your negatives.
I strongly suggest you do negative training once per week. This is plenty and will allow enough time for your chest, triceps, and shoulders to recover. Here’s a sample schedule:
Day one: Chest and Abs
Day two: Legs
Day three: Rest
Day four: Shoulders and Triceps
Day five: Back and Biceps
Day six: Rest
Day seven: Rest
For you chest, your routine will look something like this:
Warm up: Light cardio for 5 to 10 minutes
Warm up: 2 light sets of pec deck or fly’s
Bench press - see negative progression above
Incline dumbbell press - 3 sets of 8
Dips - 3 sets of 8
Fly’s - 3 sets of 12
Nutrition will play a huge part in this program. In your going to be using some pretty heavy weight so you need to increase your calorie intake. Your going to need the extra calories to help you power up the weight so take in at least 500 calories per day. If your dieting to lose weight, stay away from negative training because you won’t be getting the necessary calories in order to move really heavy weight.
For more information on setting up your diet, see this page here.
For supplement information, see this page here.
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* Katz B. The relation between force and speed in muscular contraction. J Physiol.. 1939;96:45-64.
As the owner of Building Muscle 101, I am committed to providing you the best practical weight training advice. I've been training for over 24 years (and still train to this day!) and the advice and guidance I provide comes directly from my experience and knowledge.
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