Want to increase the intensity and variety of your muscle building routine while adding muscle mass and strength? Introducing negatives!

When it comes to building strength and muscle mass negatives are often overlooked. Professional bench pressers, bodybuilders and strength athletes all use negatives to try and get the edge in their sport. So what are negatives you’re wondering? Let me explain.

3 phases of weight movement:

  1. Positive: Contracting the muscle, as in curling a weight up.
  2. Static: Not moving, bracing yourself against the weight.
  3. Negative: Extending the muscle, as in lowering the weight.

These phases are the same for every exercise you do in the gym. In this article I’m focusing on the negative phase of the movement, that is, the extension of the muscle. In a bicep curl this lowering the weight and in a bench press this is bringing the barbell down to your chest.

How your strength varies over the 3 phases

The amount of resistance (or weight in this case) your muscles can take varies greatly over the 3 phases. Let’s use the bench press for an example. Let’s say your 1 REP MAX bench press if 100kg. This is the absolute maximum weight you can move during the positive phase. No if you were to hold that weight half way down you will find your stronger, you can hold a heavier weight. On average guys are about 20% stronger on the static phase. Now this is where it really get’s interesting, the amount of weight you can lower to your chest (the negative phase) is even higher again. In most cases you can lower between 40% and 50% more weight that you can push up. This means in the negative phase you’re 50% stronger.

Why you’re stronger in the negative phase

The reason why your negative and static phases are stronger that your positive phase is because your body doesn’t want you to pick up anything you can’t handle. It’s a basic defense mechanism. For example, if it were the other way around you’d put up a heavy weight and hold it above your head, but you would not be able to lower it without dropping it. Makes sense.

How negative training works

Negative training is just one part of a multi-faceted approach to building muscle. Like many other muscle building techniques, negatives work by overloading your muscles, shocking your muscles and tricking your muscles body into thinking you are moving a heavier weight on the positive phase.

Negative training allows you to push past you body’s safety limit and move weight you would normally not be able to. This type of training is particularly effective if you’re plateauing and having trouble increasing weights in your workouts.

There are 3 basic styles of negative training. All are very effective, and can be used in conjunction with your current workout. Let’s take a look at these 3 styles:

  1. Pure negative sets
    As the name suggests, pure negative training is when your sets only consist of negatives.
  2. Finishing negative sets
    Finishing negatives are when negatives are used to finish off a set. Usually the last 2-3 reps.
  3. Negative supersets
    Just like a regular superset, but using a set of negatives.

How to do negatives

There are a few key aspects that you need to know to get the full effect of training with negatives. Firstly, you need to go very slow. You should take at least 5 seconds to lower the weight. Second, you must use the longest range of motion possible. This means all the way down for the bench, and arms fully extended for the bicep curl.

Negatives are most effective for low reps. This means no more than 8 per set. Also, negatives will lose their effectiveness if you do them every workout. You should use negatives to add variety to your workouts, remember what I said about a multi-faceted approach to building muscle. Negatives are just one method of training you can use to build muscle.

What exercises are good for training with negatives?

To a certain extent, you can use almost any exercise for negative training. But the best exercises to for negatives are:

Negatives can be dangerous!

Overloading your muscles can potentially be extremely dangerous and is not for everyone. You need to be mentally prepared and if you’re doing negatives for the first time you need to try lighter weights and work up to something you’re comfortable with.

When training with bench press negatives you need at least two, yes I said two, spotters. Training up to 50% more than your 1 REP MAX requires at least two people to lift the weight up off your chest.

Remember, safety first. You don’t want to do yourself a serious injury.


Like I said previously, negatives should be integrated into your multi-faceted approach to muscle building. You should not replace your workout with negatives, but integrate them into your current routine to add intensity and mix things up a bit. If you want to ask me any questions about negatives, you can ask on the Muscle & Strength Forum.

Posted on: Tue, 08/05/2014 - 06:47

Should I not do bench presses, particular negatives, without a spotter?

Posted on: Thu, 07/31/2014 - 04:27

I'm 47, been lifting heavy for 20+ years.
At my peak (10 years ago), could bench 350.
Then came a bicep tendon rupture following a car lift.
Surgery followed.
bicep fully reattached, regained strength.
constantly battling issues with rotator cuff (both sides).
I was able to manage it, using Diesel-crew shoulder rehab protocol (saved myself from surgery).
Now benching pain free (technique matters).
Recently about 4 weeks ago felt a slight twitch in the right armpit area (eccentric phase of bench).
no bruising, no deformity no popping sounds, just a twitch. (slight pain in the armpit area where the pec tendon attaches).
I guess it's a small partial tear.
rested for a week, resting pain gone.
took on the Starr rehab protocol (3*25 light benching).
Been able last week to do 80% of 1 rm 3x5 across.
I do however feel when my arms are extended (initial phase of eccentric) a stretch in both my pecs (with a soreness in tendon).
So, I have decided to embark on a negative training session (eccentrics only in the power rack, no spotter needed, reaching 1 working sets of 5 reps).
Been using 85% percents of 1 rm yesterday. Feel much better today.

Should I increase weight on the eccentrics ?
Should I increase volume on eccentrics ?
I know it is supposed to do wonders for rehabing and strengthening tendons.
Thanks in advance.

ryan aucoin
Posted on: Tue, 03/11/2014 - 10:35

I just got back to the gym 4 weeks ago after a year of laziness my bench has gone from 130 too 240 in that time and just stopped same with my biceps I've been reading up on how often I should do negitives and when any info would help thanks

Charbel Cruz
Posted on: Tue, 10/22/2013 - 17:13

This is wrong: Why you’re stronger in the negative phase

The reason why you are stronger in the negative phase is simply physics. You go WITH gravity, that means it is helping you, hence more weights can be used. When you go AGAINST gravity, that means up, you will need all your power to lift a certain amount. Logic

An airplane uses a huge amount of gasoline in order to go up against gravity. When it lands it uses very little of gasoline.

Posted on: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 22:08

Steve I heard that negative reps are awesome for building strength and muscle. Due to the heavy load on negative reps would it be wise to work on positive reps once done or visa versa. Example- do a normal set of bench press 250 lbs 2x10 then move to 350+ lbs for 3 x 6 negative reps. that will be a complete chest workout for the day. Then move on to another body part during the same workout session with the same idea. Bicep curl 50 lbs 2 x10 then negative 80 lbs 3 x 6 and so on. Then take at least 72 hrs off maybe just do this type of training 2 x a week

Posted on: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 16:08

I did a 5 week study on pure negative sets in the flat bench press, using 70% (submaximal effort) of the subject’s 1RM. The results were inconclusive. They did not attenuate or potentiate his strength.

One possible limitation with negatives is the recruitment of motor units. Without a preload phase or concentric (positive) phase, the larger type II muscle fibers are not recruited according Henneman’s ‘size principle’. I believe negatives increase tendon strength, strengthen the smaller type I muscle fibers, and improve the coordination of motor units and synergistic muscles involved in the exercise. Those physiological responses are all good; however, the pure negative sets; in my study; did not contribute significantly to increased strength in the flat bench press 1RM. Had the study been longer, results may have been different, oh well.


Posted on: Sun, 01/20/2013 - 17:51

I'm stuck at a bench of 315 for 5 and can't get any further getting stronger in everything else

Posted on: Sat, 09/29/2012 - 12:35

I will be putting this dzazilng insight to good use in no time.

Posted on: Fri, 09/16/2011 - 06:59

Did u not read the post above suggesting exercises?
Heres what will happen if you try to do negatives with squats: you and your spotters will get hurt. Plan on using a wheelchair for the next week.
Chinups? better off using seated rows with different extensions and good forms see where it says do lats at the same angle as bench back to back like not upright or pulldowns unless ur doing incline. Bench is all about incline and shoulders and triceps.. close grips, negatives, dips.. thats what gets ur bench up.. and you everyday benchers.. you're not growing man.. you're growing slower why would you train chest 3 days a week?
Get the arnold encyclopedia.

Posted on: Sun, 03/21/2010 - 20:37

The answer i cant seem to find online is how negative training will impact the rest of my week. I'm currently on my own workout program where i train for 3 weeks, 4 days a week and i go heavy...then i change the entire routine up and do another 3 weeks and so on until i've done 12 weeks worth. This way my muscles always get worked from numerous different angles and never adapt to one set routine, forcing them to always grow. I was trying to figure out though, if i should do a day of negative training every 3 weeks to really breakdown my bigger muscles before resting them and then starting a new routine. And if so, how long should i rest them for? If i do a day of negatives (bench, chinups, pullups, shoulder press, squats, and dips), will they be ok again after 2 days or realistically should i rest them for the week and then begin a whole new routine?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 03/19/2010 - 08:47

Joe...It appears like you're making good progress, so I wouldn't say you're over-workorking.

joe laboo
Posted on: Fri, 03/19/2010 - 03:11

I am hard-headed. I read where you said, "do not replace your workout with negative reps. only" For the last two out of three months that is exactly what I did. My goal was to be able to bench press 225 X 10. I can since only being able to bench 135 1 rep in July of 2009. On December 1st 2001 I started negative benching about 165 - 5 set of 5. Mon/Wed/FRi I increased the weight by 2.5 pounds each side after every three days of this workout. This was very heavy for me then. I also performed negative curls with 30 and 40 pound weights, finished with 40 lb dumbbells. On Tues/Thur/Sat I performed 5 sets of 6 pushups with my legs up on bench, 5 sets of wrist curls with 30, 40, 40, dumbbells as well as 3 sets of 8 chest press with 30, 30, 40 dumbbell on the decline. On SUN - I perform 3 sets of neck presses with 30, 30, 40 and 2 sets of 30 crunches. After the first month I maxed out at 185lbs. In January I started the same routine, but was only able to max out at 205. In February I got a little side tracked and my dad was not available to spot as much so I just worked every thing on Mon Tues rested on Wednesday and Thursday, just did regular benching on Friday with 215lbs and 3 set of 15 dips on Saturday, rested on Sunday. March 1st I maxed out at 225 and then started lifting 225 as many reps as I could do until I could do 225 1 set of 10. Did I overwork? And if I had done a little less would I have made more progress?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 09:01


To build muscle you need a good, basic beginner workout. Check out the workouts section, and look for "beginner workouts."

Posted on: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 01:13

Im new to working out seriously. im at the end of the p90x workout and want more muscle... questions: what do you think of this workout, should i just hit the weights and do you have a recommend workout schedule for bigger stronger muscles?

Posted on: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 07:04

Jared, I too did p90x and finished 2 rounds, I got really lean and wanted to add some more muscle mass. I turned to bodybeast another beachbody workout, I gained 12 pounds of mass in 90 days, I am now on my 2nd round. For more info contact me www.beachbodycoach.com/brandonhake