Building Strength and Mass with Negatives

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.