By Brandon Richey
In today’s article, I want to discuss how you can drastically increase your strength output without having to worry about adding more weight to the bar, more resistance, or more bells and whistles. You don’t need to add anything except discipline and consistent execution.
What I Mean By the “Negative”
I don’t mean the opposite of “positive”, meaning bad form or a “negative” that leads to injury. I mean opposite (a back bend is the negative of arching your back, for example.)
When it comes to lifting and movement I’m sure you’re familiar with the slang term that refers to the portion of a lift that is the negative part of the movement. The negative that everyone is referring to when they perform a lift is more technically known as the eccentric portion of a muscular contraction.
There are three main types of muscular contractions:
- Concentric contraction which is when the muscle shortens in order to create force.
- Isometric contraction which involves a muscle generating force without changing the length of a muscle.
- Eccentric contraction which is when a muscle elongates in response to a greater opposing force.
So what does this have to do with getting stronger?
The definition of strength is the muscle’s ability to produce tension and force for a given movement. When it comes to producing tension, there is no greater tension and force that can be produced than during the eccentric phase of a given movement.
In fact, it’s been shown that high-intensity eccentric exercise will result not only in muscle hypertrophy and increased bone mineralization, but the application of eccentric movement also appears to improve tendon remodeling after various injuries as well. The bottom line is that the eccentric contraction produces great force for great strength gains.
So How Can You Use This?
Let’s consider some different life scenarios.
Let’s assume that you have a demanding travel schedule, or perhaps you’re looking to improve your strength for a physical training test. You might even be lacking in equipment and resources. Even if any of this applies to your situation you can leverage the application of eccentric exercise movement to drastically enhance your strength gains.
For instance, let’s say you’re looking to improve on the number of pull-ups you can do.
The truth is many people want to try to perform pull-ups in a variety of ways all of which generally don’t enhance their pull-up strength…at least not optimally.
The key to improving the pull-up involves a couple of variables. The first, and most important, is perfect technique. The second is performing the down phase, or lowering portion of the pull-up, slowly and with control.
Performing the lowering portion of the pull-up slowly is where you place emphasis on the eccentric portion of the muscle contraction. This is where you can immediately make the movement three times as challenging without adding on anymore volume, or resistance for that matter.
I would recommend pulling yourself up to the top position of the pull-up and then lowering yourself in a consistently slow manner until you reach the base of the pull-up with your arms in a fully locked out position. Make the descent as slow as possible, but maintain consistent movement. Depending on how strict and how strong you are with this movement I would recommend trying to perform 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 6 reps of this movement at least twice a week for two weeks out of the month to enhance your pull-up strength.
The same technique can be applied to any other movement as well. You can apply the same slow movement during the eccentric portion of a bodyweight squat as you lower your hips towards the ground. This will not only help you to develop significant leg strength, but it will also enhance your squat range of motion (ROM) and strengthen the joint integrity of your ankles, knees, and hips.
You will notice that by including this technique into your training with the same recommendation as the pull-up that your standard squat ability will drastically improve. You’ll be able to improve and become more proficient with the squat..and any other movement for that matter by adopting this technique of emphasizing the eccentric portion of the movement.
So if you’re looking to enhance strength while improving joint integrity I would recommend emphasizing the negative (or eccentric) portion of movement with your bodyweight on occasion. The return on investment is huge with this strategy as you can acquire significant strength gains with nothing more than your own body resistance.
Are you currently trying to improve your strength with some specific physical movements?
Are you already emphasizing the eccentric portion of your strength movements?
Let us know in the comments below!
If you are interested in learning more then make sure you check out my site, Brandon Richey Fitness.
Written by Brandon Richey, SGPT coach and owner of Brandon Richey Fitness, the 120-Day Training Plan to Build Powerful Functional Fitness is designed to transform your body and mind for the rest of your life.
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QUESTION: Coach, I suck at pull-ups and I need to get better ASAP as we do them a lot in the CrossFit gym I just joined. Plus I want to sign up for the Murph Charity WOD they’re doing and there’s lots of pull-ups in that workout. Help!
ANSWER: Check out this article—How to Use Negatives to Improve Your Pull-Ups. Easier to strengthen your muscles this way. Another good article is here: Top 10 Tips to Improve Your Pull-Ups.
QUESTION: Hi Coach Brad. So I’ve been going through some tough sh*t at home and work and it’s starting to affect my workouts bad. Like, to the point where I’ve been slacking off going to the gym which makes me feel even worse. Can you give me some tips to get back on track?