If I can only get through this…
Today teaching class I had to remind everyone to slow down. As people living in today’s times, we seem to always be in a rush to get things done. It’s our culture be it at work, school, and we tend to be conditioned that way too from our surroundings. How many edits are in that 3.5 minute video, or scene from a TV show? A lot more today than there was 30 years ago. How many people actually read a complete news article or story? Most of us read the headline or summary and then move on. Our brain is being rewired to only respond to short bursts of information.
And I think this has proliferated into other things we do. We need to slow down and do things properly especially when exercising. Here’s a quick test. How many push ups can you do? Let’s say the number is 20. Now I want you to do 20 push ups and when lowering yourself take 4 seconds to reach get to the bottom position, hold it for a second, then back up. How many were you able to do this time? 10, 12? I don’t know the number but I bet it wasn’t 20. Is this a better way of doing push ups? Sure is. Slower reduces risk of injury, helps prevent cheating and ultimately works the muscles better thus the end result is results, the ones you want!
But I’m not talking only about taking your time, this post kind of is about that but more about full range of motion and paying attention to what is called the ‘negative’ or eccentric contraction. My point is if you are racing through things the negative, or eccentric movement gets missed. And you don’t want to do that.
There are 3 types of contractions:
- Concentric: is the one everyone likes, especially when posing at the gym. The bicep curl, lifting the weight feeling the bicep muscles pumped with blood. Yeah! It’s the movement where the muscle shortens when contracting.
- Isometric: No movement at all. People hate this one because it’s tiring, and the muscles tend to start shaking. Think of being at the bottom of a squat, thighs parallel with the floor, holding, and holding, and holding legs shaking. Feel the muscles burning.
- Eccentric: The one we neglect. Think of lowering the weights when doing bicep curls. But lower all the way, not 3/4’s only to bring the weight back up. This is the contraction where the muscle lengthens, it’s where we are the strongest.
We are stronger when the muscle is contracting and lengthening. You can use almost twice as much weight when you are in the eccentric contraction phase as to the concentric contraction phase. That is significantly more weight!
So why do we want to focus on the eccentric contraction phase. Because of what I said above. We can use more weight and because we can use more weight, our muscles work harder and ultimately we become stronger regardless of the contraction we are doing. That’s it. Because we are increasing the load on our muscles, we are creating more microscopic tears which in turn heal and we end up with more muscle mass.
Heavy negatives (that’s what eccentric contractions are commonly referred to as) also increases flexibility. The muscles are under a larger than normal load as they are lengthening thus helping them to lengthen even more. And because you are using more weight than normal, almost twice more, your connective tissue is becoming tougher. This helps prevent injury. Sometimes when we are injured we think of muscle injury. But it very well could be tendon injury, which you don’t want. Tendon injury can be very painful and can take a long time to recover from.
Negatives can be tough to do. You are using a load that you can handle on the eccentric phase, but is much to great a load for the concentric phase. Bands are great for this. Think of bicep curls. You can start with the band lose in the concentric phase, and as you lengthen the biceps muscles by lowering your hand, the band tightens.
Want to get really good with pull ups? Do you want to make gains quicker? Use a chair to raise yourself so you are in the contraction position, the position where you have pulled yourself up. Now, while in that position, lift your feet off of the chair and lower yourself. Put your feet back on the chair to raise yourself up back to the bar. Again, lift your feet off of the chair and lower yourself slowly, slowly. Don’t lift yourself up to the bar unaided, using your muscles. We are doing only negatives so save your energy for all the work you will do lowering yourself from the bar.
Now do 3 sets of these and tell me your back muscles aren’t killing you the next day. I bet they are?
Want to get better at leg raises? Try the same thing: while hanging from a bar, swing your legs up and lower them down super slow. Do this again, and again, lowering them really slow and swinging them up quickly. You could also use bands for this. Lay on your back and have the band attached to something such as a door handle, frame, whatever. Have the band so it is taught when your legs are 90 degrees point up from the ground. Now, lower your legs and feel the resistance as the band tightens. Do this for 3 sets and your muscles will respond the next day by letting you know you really shocked them.
Try this for a couple weeks, nothing but negatives. Then, see how your next ‘normal’ workout is. Feel stronger? Probably.
You can’t do negatives all the time. This is something to switch in from your normal workout once in a while. And because you are stressing your body by increasing the load, it needs time and rest to heal. Don’t forget that. Don’t work extremely hard and then not realize the gains you should have because you aren’t eating properly and resting. That would be bad.
Try it. Why not. You’ll get stronger, more flexible, and your technique will be better because of it.
Negatives – the opposite of what we think we need to do.
Yours in health,