It’s time to embrace the negative. And we’re not talking about some downer news or harsh criticism from haters. Instead, we’re focusing on the negative movement of exercise.
“The best way to describe eccentric exercises is ‘negatives,’” says Mike Donavanik, CSCS, celebrity trainer and creator of mikedfitness.com. The opposite of concentric (the upward motion that shortens muscle fibers), “eccentric training involves lengthening the muscle fibers back out and lowering the weight down. During eccentric exercises, strength moves are generally performed in a pattern of one- to two-seconds for the lifting portion and three- to five-seconds for the lowering, or negative, portion.”
The Benefits of Eccentric Exercise
Research generally supports this working-against-gravity strategy. “It causes more micro-tears in the muscle than concentric training, so eccentric training can lead to increased strength and muscle mass,” Donavanik says. “It also helps strengthen a muscle throughout its full range of motion, which can help prevent injury, too.”
What’s more, as you challenge your body in new ways, your brain also reaps the benefits. Researchers have found that — compared to concentric exercises — the novel nature of the eccentric rep pattern increases activity in the area of the brain that tackles coordination and motor control. So the more you practice this downward phase of lifting, the more you engage the brain to help with better body movements.
How to Get Eccentric with Your Workouts
“Eccentric training can lead to increased strength and muscle mass.”
There is a catch, though. Compared to evenly-paced exercises, eccentric training may lead to more muscle soreness thanks to the way it challenges muscle fibers. Plus, because you move at a slower pace, it often burns fewer calories.
So the best way to incorporate eccentric exercise into a full workout is to mix a few negative moves into your typical training routine, Donavanik says. For instance, on leg day, stick to your regularly-scheduled deadlifts and lunges, then try eccentric squats. To learn how to nail that negative squat properly — and find a few more eccentric exercises to add to your workouts — check out Donavanik’s suggestions below.
5 Eccentric Exercises to Add to Your Gym Routine
Donavanik recommends adding 10 reps of these five moves to your gym session when you’re craving variety. For maximum strength gains, stick to heavier weights and lower reps rather than cranking out dozens of low-weight reps, according to research. Another quick note: Give your muscles about three days of rest after working through these exercises to allow them to recover.
How to: Start standing with feet about hip-width apart (a). Bend knees, push your hips back and lower butt down toward the floor for a squat, taking three to five seconds to end at about a 90 degree knee angle (or lower if possible) (b). Stand up quickly for the concentric phase (c). Repeat.
How to: Start in plank position with wrists directly under shoulders (a). Bend arms and lower chest down to the floor for a three- to five-second count, ending at about a 90 degree elbow angle (or lower) (b). Quickly push yourself back up for the concentric phase (c). Repeat.
How to: Start in a straight-arm hang on a bar (a). Pull your chest up toward the bar at a regular pace. If you can’t pull yourself up, jump up to the bar or use a resistance band to help you (b). Then, slowly lower yourself back down for at least three seconds (c). Repeat.
4. Cable Biceps Curls
How to: With the pulley at the bottom of the cable machine, attach a straight, shoulder-width-long bar. Pick up the bar with both hands and start with your arms straight down by your hips, palms facing up (a). Bend your elbows to lift the bar toward your shoulders, keeping your upper arms and shoulders stable (b). Slowly lower your forearms and the weight back to the starting position for five seconds (c). Repeat.
5. Rope Triceps Extensions
How to: With the pulley at the top of the cable machine, attach a V-shaped rope grip. Bend your elbows to grab each side of the rope overhead (a). Straighten your elbows to push the lower half of your arms toward the floor on a five-count, keeping upper arms and shoulders stable (b). Slowly raise forearms back to starting position (c). Repeat.