Negative only, variable resistance and the human control factors
Since its inception, negative only training has been touted by certain bodybuilding authorities as possessing great value for gaining strength and size; and rightfully so. Nevertheless, this method never really caught on to enjoy the popularity of other less valuable bodybuilding techniques.
Seemingly failing to live up to the results that it claimed it would; negative only training sailed into oblivion. Unfortunately, justice never prevailed for the negative only system of training, nor did it get its proper due. While some authorities were able to recognize its value, no one really succeeded in harnessing its proper applications.
Negative only resistance uniquely contributes significantly to the enhancement of the intensity of exercise by imposing a workload on the muscles that is not possible to achieve with any other method of training. Negative only training is an extension from where standard positive/negative training leaves off; the new system taking it even further.
The basic concept of negative only resistance is that muscles are able to accommodate greater resistance during the negative aspect of an exercise than they can for the positive one. Because negative only resistance enables a muscle to utilize more weight than it would be capable of otherwise, it’s dynamic forces it to work harder thus recruiting a greater number of available muscle fibers. This negatively enhanced overload causes the muscle to adapt with increases in strength and size.
Unfortunately, there are drawbacks with the conventional system of negative only training. First, the original method required ponderous poundage’s (usually in the form of heavy barbells) that would have to first be lifted into position by a spotter (or two) before the trainee could proceed to perform the negative only aspect of an exercise. This scenario was as cumbersome as it was impractical.
Second, due to the extremely heavy weights that were employed, adequate preparation of the muscles and their involved structures could not possibly occur by merely by going through a series of minor warm-up sets and then directly into a heavy set of negative only exercise. It is wishful thinking that a typical warm-up could possibly adequately prepare soft tissue components for the crushing poundage’s that would be associated with this style of training; the potential danger involved being the risk of injury.
Third, this method would not allow for pre-conditioning of the muscles and their auxiliary structures. Unless a state of pre-conditioning is achieved, the involved structures will not be able to adequately affect the contractions necessary to optimally stimulate growth. Pre-conditioning is achieved by first performing a systematic series of intense multiple positive only sets prior to engaging in a set of negative only resistance exercise. This last point serving to reflect a running theme of this journal in that a single set of any exercise cannot sufficiently engage enough muscle fibers to adequately stimulate muscle growth, negative only or otherwise; multiple sets being a requirement for growth.
Fourth, there is a lack of variable resistance as to adjust to the fluctuation of momentary strength levels (more on this later).
The excessively heavy poundage’s that are imposed by the conventional method of negative only training renders the muscles, connective tissues and auxiliary structures beyond their ability to cope. Forcefully subjecting connective tissue structures to the undue stress of such excessive overloads renders the target muscles literally irresponsive thus literally repudiating growth. For all the involved tissues and structures to respond properly, they must be thoroughly prepared to do so.
Negative only training is something that should not be jumped into hastily without proper preparation, and is of little or no value unless first integrated with sets of positive only resistance exercises. The conventional system of negative only training has traditionally been promoted as an entity unto itself, and nowhere was it ever proposed that it should be integrated synergistically with positive only exercises. Negative only training should not be performed exclusively, but adjunctively to conventional exercise. Giant sets provide the perfect “bridge” connecting positive and negative only exercise; their combined applications reciprocally enhancing the muscles responsiveness to both.
With the new system, by the time you are ready to perform the set of negative only exercise, the target area will have been already fully prepared to take on the rigors of high intensity negative only training and able to derive the maximum benefits from it. The following is an example of what happens when negative only training is taken to the counterproductive extreme.
Years ago my training partner and I attempted to do what we perceived to be the correct method for doing “negatives”. We constructed two large, square wooden platforms that were designed to catch the weight from heavy negative barbell squats. The weights were so heavy that it required two training partners, one at each platform just to hoist the ponderous weight into position. It was ridiculous the way we wobbled under the huge, crushing poundage’s pressing down on our spines as we prepared to drop into a squat. As we engaged into each gut busting rep, the bar would more often than not come crashing down uncontrollably.
This method was already lacking two of the necessary major requirements for muscle growth. Not only did we not experience a pump of any kind with this method, but also there was no muscular soreness present afterward either. The only thing that ached after afterwards were our backs and knees. We finally quit the system after eventually wearing out the platforms. Discouraged after making absolutely no progress, I quit altogether for a while.
Again, it was thanks to Jones’s influence that I believed the “pump” not to be conditional to stimulating muscle growth with negative only training (and as I recall, with any style of training for that matter as far as he was concerned). What outright nonsense! Not only is a pump mandatory for growth stimulation, if it does not occur, then the trainee must be training for reasons other than building muscle.
It is unfortunate that the bodybuilding public has for so long been denied the true value of properly applied negative only resistance training. The good news is that the negative only system has been re-visited in a way that it is literally the most effective application of this method yet contrived. With the new system, the outstanding effects of negative only training are maximized in a fashion that eliminates the necessity of using ridiculous poundage’s, and in some cases require no “weights” at all.
The modus operandi of proper negative only resistance training is as follows. The negative only movement should be performed as the final exercise of a giant set for any given muscle group. By this time, the preceding positive only sets will have created a “weak link” that momentarily reduces existing strength levels. The muscles are now rendered unable to handle nearly as much weight for a set of negative only resistance exercise as they could otherwise when they are fresh and strong. It is no longer necessary to utilize excessive poundage’s that are normally associated with negative only training and still derive all of its benefits and advantages; and this is achieved as safely and as efficiently as possible.
Let us discuss the proper use of negative only resistance using the example of a three-exercise giant set for the biceps:
Preacher curls (negative only)
In this scenario, the third and final exercise in this giant set is a set of preacher curls to be performed in negative only fashion. As mentioned in the last chapter, there should be no rest time going from regular barbell curls to the set of negative only preacher curls. Longer rest periods enable rapid recovery in strength levels. This would then require an unnecessarily greater effort on the part of the training partner to assist in providing resistance for the negative only exercise. However if the negative only set is performed immediately after the final positive set, little effort will then be required on the part of the assistant.
Negative only preacher curls are to be performed with an empty bar. Starting in the contracted position, the assistant should then take hold of the bar and begin pulling down manually. The assistant should apply just enough resistance as to not overpower the subject, and adjust it to their momentary strength levels. The subject should apply maximum effort while negatively resisting on the way down with as much intensity as possible. The recommended number of repetitions to be performed is six, the duration of each lasting six to eight seconds.
Listed below is part of a sample program for the deltoids, again incorporating the negative only exercise component:
Cable side laterals
Behind the neck smith machine press
Side laterals (negative only)
The negative only exercise in this example is side laterals. The subject begins by bringing their arms into position, arms outstretched from the sides with the hands prone. The assistant then grasps onto the subjects wrists, pressing down while the subject resists against the resistance.
A properly performed giant set ending with a set of negative only resistance exercise will challenge a muscle beyond its momentary capabilities and will very quickly produce outstanding results. The Negative feedback system produces a physiological growth phenomenon that visibly produces increases in strength and size with virtually every workout. The totally obliterated muscular sensation experienced afterward will confirm that you are on the right track. A workout performed in this fashion will leave the trainee feeling as though they had just climbed up a mountain with a refrigerator on their back. The “pump” that is experienced by the new system is paranormal and will leave you with a sensation that is indescribable; in a word “ thrashed”.
While negative only resistance performed independently results in little or nothing in the way of producing a pump, when combined with positive exercise, the pump that is produced is more extreme than anything that can be produced with any other style of training. In essence, the negative only resistance component of the new system serves to “prime the pump” sort of speak, by creating a vacuum in the muscle. This mechanism enhances the muscles filling with blood, producing a pump that is way beyond that which had already been produced by the positive only exercises alone. This is not the kind of worthless pump that is easily attained with a flurry of light movements for high repetitions; but a true, deep down to the bone, full-blown pump that results incidentally- in extreme muscular soreness.
Systematic increases in strength with the Negative feedback system will be evident retrospectively by monitoring increases in poundage’s for positive only exercises as indicators of progress; the “feedback” device being the “loop” by which negative only training reciprocally enhances the effects of positive training thereby extending it’s limitations. It is the combination of negative only and positive training that produces this mechanism, which inspires the new system’s moniker and apt metaphor describing it as the “Negative feedback system”.
Here is some food for thought for variable resistance proponents. When negative only training is performed using the traditional method of utilizing heavy barbells, the imposed resistance is fixed while the natural strength curves of the muscles vary. Therefore unless negative only movements are performed on machines with a variable resistance component built into them, much of its value is lost. Even if the subject were to rely on the rotary aspect of a machine to apply negative resistance in a more accommodating fashion, what is to say that the variable resistance settings of that machine will conform exactly to the natural strength curves and leverage factors of that particular individual? With so many variables involved, it is more likely that the negative application will not synchronize with these secondary considerations.
Even if rotary machines were able to ideally accommodate those considerations, the subject would still have to utilize super heavy weights and rely on a partner(s) to first pull the entire load into position. In any case, the conventional negative only system is just not practical.
A simple solution comes in the form of the Negative feedback system, which incidentally has little to do with any equipment at all, let alone even a barbell in some cases. The “tool” in question comes in the form of a willing participant, that is; negative only resistance applied manually by a training partner. In this fashion, negative only resistance can be applied with any exercise and be gradually adjusted according to the subjects natural strength curves throughout the entire range of motion; a feature that is not necessarily accomplished with barbells or machines-rotary or otherwise. The new system exponentially enhances the overall value of conventional exercise while virtually making any other form of exercise, including negative only resistance-vastly inferior.
One might argue that using manually applied resistance would make it difficult to track progress because there is no way of measuring the actual amount of resistance being applied. This is not an issue however. The only responsibility of the subject during the performance of a negative only set is to do so with 100 % maximum effort; increases in strength will take care of themselves accordingly. Monitoring strength levels by the performance of positive only exercises are ultimately the indicator for gauging the results produced by the negative only applications. It is the negative only aspect of the new system that serves as a catalyst for the positive only component, both being reciprocal to each other.
To expand a bit more in regards to the variable resistance aspect of training; some authorities have claimed that the lack of variable resistance is a great shortcoming of barbells and conventional equipment, or that they are at least guilty of not providing adequate resistance as needed in the contracted position. This is not exactly true in all cases.
There are numerous conventional exercises that fulfill this aspect perfectly such as calf raises, side laterals, upright rows, cable exercises, and spider curls-just to name a few. Partial repetitions in the contracted position will also easily satisfy the requirement for working the muscles “full range”, or at least that aspect of the moment arm that is not otherwise necessarily affected by certain machines or free weights. In any case, one thing is for certain; the sheer force of intensity that is provided by the new system, clearly over rides the idiosyncrasies of variable resistance or a lack thereof. The machinations of the new system with manually applied variable resistance are overwhelmingly inclusive of all requisites for growth. The necessities to fulfill any other requirements beyond this are incidental.
In order to derive the best possible results from negative only resistance training, a training partner is almost always a necessity. In the event that a training partner is not available however, there are ways to improvise. For example whenever I don’t have a partner, I improvise by “cheating” the weight into position before resisting it negatively on the way down. Single limb exercises can also easily be performed in negative only fashion.
The Negative feedback system experience will forever squash any “heavy weights are a must” arguments. The heavy resistance requirement can now be fulfilled without resorting to the burdens of conventional heavy negative overload training. There is a time and place for everything; and under the right conditions and timing, “heavy” is a good thing-relatively speaking. In the case of properly executed negative feedback protocol, manually applied resistance will provide all the “weight” that a trainee can possibly handle. If after trying the new system, a trainee still insists that heavy weights rule; then perhaps they should consider a job moving pianos.
The Negative feedback system takes the subjectivity out of training, putting the trainee in the driver’s seat as they maneuver toward their objectives. When the methods described in this chapter are put into motion, the trainee will be in full control of their rate progress, and will be able to predictably and measurably produce increases in strength and size-at will.
The proper application of negative only training has been previously unknown or at least misunderstood. The new system is the “missing link” that brings out the best of both worlds from the standpoints of negative only and conventional exercise.
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