First, some background.
Back in the 1970s when Nautilus (equipment that revolutionised strength training) was getting established, its founder Arthur Jones was very aware that muscles were a lot more efficient at lowering than lifting resistance. By efficient, he meant that muscles have a greater capacity to produce force with less energy cost. So, by being more efficient it takes fewer muscle fibres - fibres produce force – and energy to lower the same weight that you lifted.
This awareness of a muscle’s varying strength levels (positive, static, negative) led him to the recommendation - lift for 2 seconds, pause for 1 and lower for 4; and repeat to momentary muscular failure (MMF). This is the very protocol we employ here at BodyTech.
Why 4 seconds in the negative phase? To make muscles work longer, and therefore harder, to counter or compensate for their increased capacity to meet an opposing force. In strength training lexicon, we refer to this as “time under tension”. The more time you spend lifting, holding or lowering something the more demanding it is for your muscles. So, the longer 4 second negative - in theory – taps further into the muscles’ strength reserves (inroad) that give them the ability to generate force. And the deeper you penetrate those reserves, the greater your potential for best results.
Remember, the goal is to tap this reserve out within a very brief time frame; somewhere between 8 -12 repetitions. In effect, you end up spending twice as long in the negative phase than you do in the positive during any given set of exercise. If you failed at 8 repetitions, this would have your muscles spending 16 seconds in the positive phase, 8 seconds during the static phase, and 32 seconds in the negative phase.
Accentuate the negative.
The basic strength training protocol (2:1:4) we use accentuates the negative by spending more time under tension doing negative work, than positive. Most trainers and fitness enthusiasts fail to understand this fundamental principle of muscle physiology. They think it’s all about the lifting part, giving no regard to the lowering part – which is the most import part of performing repetitions in terms of increasing your intensity of effort and efficiency of results.
To prove his point, Jones set out to demonstrate that ‘negative work’ (eccentric contraction) is one of the most important factors involved in exercise performed for the purpose of increasing strength and muscle growth. His study, known as the Colorado Experiment, proved just that. The results were unprecedented. And still today, no one has ever produced results as dramatic.
So why didn’t negative training catch on?
There was an inherent problem with heavy negative only training; you cannot lower what you cannot lift. Negative training had proven to be impractical as it became more difficult for assistants to transfer heavier weight loads to the trainee. For the trainee, the progressively increasing weight load was not an issue because it only matched what they are capable of doing.
Manufacturers, going as far back as the 1970s, were in a quandary over how to design equipment that allowed people to encounter their negative strength; with the automatic and unassisted overloading of the muscles during the lowering phase of a strength training exercise.
Then in 2009, Swedish engineers created an innovative and refined series of negative strength training machines called X-Force™.
The ingenuity of X-Force™ is that it automatically increases resistance 40% during the lowering (negative) phase of a lift – strengthening muscles more efficiently whilst inducing a greater response from key hormones that enhance fat burn much better than conventional methods of exercise.
The great news is that BodyTech is the first gym in NZ, and one of the few in the world, to be invited to offer X-Force™ negative strength training to its members.