Negative Rep Training

by Jason Stallworth

September 27, 2020

Building muscle is all about feeling your muscles working. There’s a ‘huge’ difference between that and just lifting a bunch of weight from point A to B.

In fact, that’s the main difference between bodybuilding versus strength training. And it’s often said you need to focus on either building muscle or getting stronger, but not both at the same time. There’s some truth to that, but

There’s one method that can help you build both muscle and strength. It’s called negative rep training.

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • Everything you need to know about doing negative reps
  • How doing negatives can help you achieve both goals of building muscle mass while getting stronger
  • Complete workout routine using negatives

What Are Negative Reps?

Negative rep training is when you take more time on the eccentric part of the rep, about 3-5 seconds. Here’s how negatives work…

  • The key is that you’re not allowing the weight to just fall back into the starting position. And you’re not using momentum.
  • Rather, you’re controlling the weight on the descent. This forces your muscles to work harder against that weight.
  • A typical negative rep is taking 3-5 seconds on the eccentric part of that rep.

Let’s use two examples, one being a push and the other being a pull exercises:

Dumbbell Press (push): The negative part of the rep is from the point where your arms are extended out, holding the dumbbells over your body to lowering them back down towards you, back to the starting point.

Lat Pulldowns (pull): The negative rep here is from the point of having the bar pulled down to your upper chest to where your arms are extended out (the end of the rep.

**Negatives are typically saved for the final set of an exercise. And there are a few ways to use them, which we’ll get more into later.

How Negative Reps Help You Build More Muscle Mass

wide grip seated rows

The reason negative reps give you more muscle-building potential is that you’re recruiting more muscle fibers during the eccentric part of the movement. You’re also increasing the workload of the muscle as you’re putting that muscle under more stress.

  • This type of training can help give you that dense, grainy bodybuilder look that we’re all after.
  • Negative reps also increase the time under tension for that set. Time under tension is a major factor in building muscle size.
  • Negatives also increase the intensity of your workout, which can help you not only build muscle but also gain more definition.

Marc Lobliner and Sean Torbati explain these benefits in more detail in the YouTube video below:

**For even greater gains in the gym, be sure to check out one of my top pre-workouts in this post:

Alpha Lion Superhuman HULK JUICE: Why You Need to Try This

How Negative Reps Help You Get Stronger

You know that negative training can help you build muscle size but does performing negative reps lead to strength gains?

  • The idea is that by controlling the weight you’re forcing your muscles to adapt to that weight.
  • An example is if you can control 225 on the bench press, then the next time you lift that weight using normal reps, it’s going to feel lighter.
  • Negative training also helps you get past your sticking points. It’s common to hit a strength plateau, especially on the bigger lifts.

Strength trainer Nick Nilsson explains more on how negative rep training can make you stronger and boost your bench press.

**If one of your goals is to increase your bench press, then be sure to read my post:

Critical Bench Review: How to Increase Bench Press and Strength

3 Ways to Use Negative Reps for Muscle Gains

First, let’s cover how to use negative reps, in general. And there are two things to keep in mind:

  • Take 3-5 seconds on the eccentric part of the rep
  • In most cases, you’ll use explosive power to lift the concentric part of the rep

There are a few different ways to do negative training. I’m going to share three methods, and each method caters to slightly different goals. So you can switch these up from time to time in your program to maximize muscle gains.

1 – Heavy Negative Training with a Spotter

Jason Stallworth 405 bench

One of the most common ways to doing negatives is having a spotter assist you on the concentric part of the rep with a weight that you can’t lift on your own so that you can perform the negative.

**If you’re a beginner, do not use this method.
This method can be extremely dangerous if you’re not careful, and you should never attempt this without a trusted and experienced spotter. The two methods I’m going to share after this are much safer and more effective for building muscle.

There are two ways you do this:

  1. Towards the end of the set where you can’t lift anymore
  2. Using a weight that you cannot lift

Let’s use the bench press as an example for both scenarios…

In the first example, you would be lifting a heavy weight that you can do for a few (anywhere from 4-8) reps. But once you reach the point of failure, you have your spotter to assist you with that another rep (the concentric part of that rep), in which you’ll slowly lower the weight back down for that negative rep.

The second way is to start out with a weight that you can’t quite lift on your own and use the same method. You would want to make sure you’re thoroughly warm-up before attempting this.

***Again, for both methods you need a spotter that you can trust and who is an experienced weightlifter.

Also, this method is typically used for strength gains as a means of getting your muscles to adapt to a heavier weight.

I mentioned this earlier – if strength gains are your goal, then read my post about the Critical Bench 2.0 program.

2 – Ending Your Final Set with a Negative Rep

Similar to the above method, you can perform a negative rep on the final rep of the set, typically your last set. The difference here is you’re not waiting until you hit complete muscle failure.

Instead, you’re simply controlling that weight on the final rep by taking more time on the eccentric part of the final rep.

Here’s an example using dumbbell press:

  • Your goal is 8-10 reps
  • Pump out the usual amount of reps
  • On that final rep, you take several seconds to lower that weight

This method of negative rep training is much safer and more effective when you use it with dumbbells or machines. This way your mind is not on the weight crushing you, allowing you to focus more on forcing your muscles to work harder.

If you are, however, using this with free-weight pressing exercises, you will need to make sure you have someone to spot you.

3 – Doing All-Negative Sets

This is basically doing all controlled reps for your set but with a specific focus on the eccentric part of your reps.

Controlled reps can be great for isolation exercises. You’re not only increasing time under tension but you’re targeting a specific muscle, unlike compound lifts that work multiple muscles.

Let’s use EZ bar biceps curls as an example.

  • Perform the concentrate part of the rep at normal speed
  • Take 3-5 seconds on the eccentric (negative) part of the rep
  • Repeat until you reach your goal (8-12 reps)

It’s important to note that you will need to use lighter weight to do this right, meaning perform the exercise with good form.

The purpose of this method is to develop, shape, and define your muscles. And this is done by forcing your muscles to work harder by increasing time under tension and making that set more intense.

Bodybuilding Workout Routine with Negative Reps

heavy incline dumbbell press

Now it’s time for a complete workout routine using negatives!

Here are some notes about this workout:

  • This is assuming that you do not have a training partner, so you’ll only be using methods 2 and 3 for negative training described above
  • You’ll only be using negative reps on exercises where you don’t necessarily need a spotter
  • Each workout will start with a compound exercise followed by a series of semi-compound and isolation exercises
  • This routine is based on training 4-days per week
  • You’ll train each muscle once per week (I’ll show you some alternatives if you want to train each muscle more frequently)

**Be sure to read the section below each workout for instructions on how to perform the negative reps for the exercises!

Training Split for Negatives

This is just an example of a training split that you can use. Feel free to move the days around and cater this to fit your preferred scheduled.

  • Monday: Back
  • Tuesday: Shoulders and Triceps
  • Wednesday: rest
  • Thursday: Legs
  • Friday: Chest and Biceps
  • Saturday: rest
  • Sunday: rest

Let’s get to your workouts…

Back Workout with Negatives

ExerciseSets x Reps
Barbell Rows4 x 8-10
Dumbbell Rows4 x 8-10*
Seated Rows3 x 10*
Lat Pulldowns3 x 10*
Hammer Strength or Machine Rows3 x 12**

NEGATIVES:

*Perform a negative rep on the final rep of the final set
**Perform negative reps for every rep for each set

Shoulders and Triceps Workout with Negatives

ExerciseSets x Reps
Seated Barbell Press4 x 8-10
Seated Dumbbell Press4 x 8-10*
Lateral Raises3 x 10**
Cable Pressdowns3 x 10*
Reverse Overhead Rope Extensions3 x 12**

NEGATIVES:

*Perform a negative rep on the final rep of the final set
**Perform negative reps for every rep for each set

Leg Workout with Negatives

ExerciseSets x Reps
Squats4 x 8-10
Leg Press4 x 12
Stiff-leg Deadlifts3 x 10
Leg Extensions3 x 12* and **
Lying Leg Curls3 x 12* and **
Seated Calve Raises1 set of 75s (see below)

NEGATIVES:

* and **Perform negative rep on the final rep of every set except for the final set, which you will perform negatives on all reps

You’re essentially combining two methods for negatives here.

75s for calves is a method you can use for extreme growth. It’s basically an extended rest-pause set.

  • Choose a weight you can do about 20 reps with
  • Do a set
  • Rest for 10-15 seconds
  • Do another set using the same weight
  • Repeat until you’ve done a total of 75 reps

You can also perform another calf exercise prior to this with regular sets and reps. Or you can double-up on the 75s method and do it twice.

Chest and Biceps Workout with Negatives

ExerciseSets x Reps
Incline Bench Press4 x 8-10
Dumbbell Press4 x 8-10*
Cable Flyes3 x 10**
EZ Bar Curls3 x 10*
Preacher Curls3 x 12**

NEGATIVES:

*Perform a negative rep on the final rep of the final set
**Perform negative reps for every rep for each set

3 Ways to Increase Your Training Frequency

If you’d like to work each muscle more than once a week, there are a few ways you can do this:

  1. Train 4 days in a row, take 1 off, repeat
  2. Do 2 days on, 1 day off, repeat (this will give you just under a week rest between body parts)
  3. Use a 5th training day to give extra attention to body parts you want to bring up

**I’m a big fan of training back and legs twice a week. Those are your largest muscle groups, and sadly they’re often the most neglected.

I have a couple of posts you may be interested in regarding back and legs below:

Training Legs Twice a Week: How to Build Bigger Legs

Train Back Twice A Week to Build Ripped Muscle Mass

Negatives Leads to Positive Muscle Gains

There’s no arguing that you can pack on slabs of muscle with negative training. Just remember…

  • It’s about controlling the weight and feeling the muscle work. It’s not about merely moving the weight from one point to another.
  • Just showing up to the gym and going through the motions isn’t going to produce results.
  • Building muscle requires you to tear down and exhaust the muscle, which makes negative rep training an awesome option.

You have to always be conscious of what you’re doing in the gym and also revert back to why you’re lifting weights. This helps you develop that mind-muscle connection, which I talk more about in my post How to Build a Mind-Muscle Connection for Bigger Gains.

Let’s reiterate – you’re not just showing up to the gym to randomly push some weight around. As much time and effort as you put into your training, you want to get the most out of every workout, every set, and every rep.

So I encourage you to integrate some negative training into your workouts. it’s almost impossible not to see gains from this method.

Excuses Don’t Build Muscle,

Jason

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