Can negatives spark new muscle growth?

March 28, 2015

Q: I have read a lot about special techniques that are supposed to accelerate fat loss and muscle growth and was wondering what your thoughts were on repetition speed, interval training and doing negatives to force muscles to grow faster.

A: One thing is for sure, knowledge is power, and understanding how exercise affects your body can be a valuable tool. But be sure to do your research and base your decisions on reliable information; resist the urge to jump on the bandwagon of popular fitness trends. Below are a few topics of interest and some tips on how to incorporate solid information into your routine. Give it a try, and results are sure to follow.

Eccentric vs. concentric

When most people lift a bar or dumbbell, the main goal is to move the weight up and down without a single brain cell focusing on the path, speed or position of the bar. Approaching your workout in this manner is like driving your car down a hill without a steering wheel; it’s unproductive, not to mention an accident waiting to happen. That’s why it’s important to understand how your body responds to the positive and negative portion of each repetition. The positive or concentric part of the movement is when the muscle shortens, as when lifting the weight up in a bicep curl or chest press. The eccentric portion of the lift is when the muscles stretches or lengthens, like when you lower the weight back down in the bicep curl or chest press. The main difference is you are almost twice as strong on the eccentric portion - lowering - of the lift, and that’s why people can lower a lot more weight in the squat or chest press but sometimes can’t lift it back up. However, you can use this to spark new muscle growth and progress by doing sets of negatives, where you slowly control heavier weight than you can normally lift, in the eccentric or lowering phase of the lift, activating a ton of muscle fibers and shocking the muscles to new gains.

Interval or steady state

There is no doubt in my mind that proper interval training is one of the best fat-burning techniques available, but it’s important to understand that when you do it and how it fits into your program depends on several variables. If you are a beginner, hold off on fancy interval training programs and use the first 4 to 6 weeks of your regimen to establish a strong baseline, building the strength and intensity of your sessions, and then start with a very basic interval training program and over time work up to more complicated routines. Remember, sometimes you must crawl before you walk, and basics always rule when starting any new program. Intervals work great, but they work better after you have developed some strength and endurance, and can now challenge your body with bursts of speed with a challenging intensity.

Slow reps or fast reps

There are some lifts that are meant to be done fast, like cleans and kettle bell swings, while others are more beneficial if they are done slowly with concentration and focus on targeted muscles, like bicep curls. What concerns me is that a lot of beginners today start by lifting the weight at breakneck speed before they ever train their muscles, nerves and connective tissue to handle the load.

This can result in a weak foundation and poor form that will give fewer results, setting up future injuries because the basic mechanics were never learned. Research shows that lifting heavier loads in a controlled manner over time will train the nerves to move in the proper pathway as well as strengthen tendons and make muscles and connective tissue more capable of lifting at faster speeds.

Sometimes the sea of fitness information is overwhelming and will leave even the most intelligent person scratching his head wondering what to do to and how get the best results in the gym. That’s why sound research can fill in the blanks and provide the missing piece of the puzzle that will allow you to make the changes needed to get the best possible results for your time invested in the gym.

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