It's almost a secret workout trick, used by bodybuilders to build bigger muscles and by elite athletes to get stronger, fast. Negatives are a way to lift more weight than you ever thought possible, while building and toning your muscles at super speed.
Here's an easy technical explanation of what negatives are: there are two parts of every weightlifting exercise; the concentric, where muscle fibers shorten, or contract, to lift the weight; and the eccentric, where muscle fibers get longer to lower the weight.
For example, the eccentric part of a biceps curl is the straightening of the arm; for a pull-up, it's the lowering of the body from the bar; in a bench press, it's when the bar comes down. Most people who train with weight resistance thing of the negative portion of an exercise only as part of the concentric movement. But it's actually the eccentric movement that builds strength. That eccentric part of a lift is called the "negative."
Paul Silvestri, an athletic trainer at the University of Utah, says, "Negatives are a good way to build strength, because the eccentric work is overlooked. You can use more poundage if you're just doing eccentric work."
Here's the secret: you can lift about 30-40 percent more weight in the negative phase than in a regular lift, where you start with the concentric movement. So let's say you normally can't do a pull-up starting from the floor. But if you begin with the negative---standing on a bench in the 'up' position and gently lowering yourself down---you will find it easy. Practice negative sets of pull-ups two or three times a week, and by the third week, you will be strong enough to do full sets of them, starting from the floor.
When using negatives, you have to make some changes in your regular program. You will not be able to do as many reps, for example, as you do when including the concentric part of the lift. Here's how to gauge the correct number of reps when doing negatives: when you can no longer lower the weight slowly and in total control, the set is done.
Another fact about negatives: they will make you sore, especially if you are loading up more poundage. You will have DOMS, or delayed-onset muscle soreness, even though you usually don't get sore from your workouts. The pain can be intense, so take it easy at first, don't do more than two or three sets. Negatives will shock your muscles out of their normal plateau into hard core growth, which is why they're used by body builders.
But women will not bulk up. They don't make enough testosterone to get as bulky as men, they only get well toned from negatives.
But both men and women should incorporate this semi-secret exercise technique into their routine. "It's an important component of strength training and needs to be in a program," advises Silvestri.
He also warns that a spotter is necessary, especially when you first begin. If you're working out alone, ask a gym staff member to spot you. When that gym staffer sees what negatives do for your muscles, he or she will start doing negatives as well.