I’ve been hearing and reading a lot lately about how important it is to control the negative (eccentric) portion of your lift if you really want hypertrophy. It’s nothing new to me for sure, but at the same time I’ve never taken it seriously enough before. I’ve certainly done negatives before and occasionally added them into my routines, but it was usually on a whim and not very frequent. It turns out that was a mistake, since if you want nice muscle growth, working on the eccentric portion of the lift is important.
I suppose I should have thought more about it considering eccentric lifting is essentially what fixed my recurring hamstring issues I used to have. In both 2009 and 2010 I had really bad hamstring injuries while playing baseball that plagued me the entire season each year. After trying many different approaches it wasn’t until I discovered eccentric training that I finally cured the problem once and for all, or so I hope anyway.
Now most recently I started using eccentric training with my biceps to help heal a recurring bicep tendonitis issue that had been plaguing me for close to 6 months. I’m finally starting to lift pain-free again, and I can’t tell you what a relief that is because it was really starting to seem like something that would never go away.
The fact that eccentric training has now helped fix two separate injuries for me really has me thinking. Is it possible that it not only helps spark better muscle growth but also could help prevent and heal injuries? I don’t have these answers, but it definitely gives me even more reason to keep including eccentric training as a mainstay in my lifting routine.
I’ve been doing a lot of constant tension training the last two weeks since reading Matt’s article about it and I have to say is I absolutely love it. If you haven’t checked it out yet do so here to educate yourself, you won’t be disappointed. Let me tell you, constant tension training burns so bad. My muscles are absolutely on fire while performing them, and I can’t get enough! The extreme burning pain that comes from it is something I absolutely crave. As a side note I think that “it hurts so good” feeling is something few others besides bodybuilders can truly appreciate. I tell an average person that I love that feeling of intense pain while I’m lifting and they look at me like I’ve totally lost it. Maybe they aren’t all that far off.
The thing that is the toughest about constant tension training is it always feels like I get to the point where I’m almost at failure, yet I can keep going for several more reps. By the time I really can’t do anymore, whatever I’m working on is absolutely on fire. I haven’t felt a burn like I’ve been getting from this lifting, probably ever. If I’m doing dumbbell chest press with constant tension, by the time I’m done I’m literally clutching my chest and probably making unpleasant sounds for everyone else to hear as it hurts so good!
This doesn’t mean you should do nothing but constant tension training or nothing but negatives. I want to be clear that negatives and constant tension are not one and the same. However constant tension training surely has an emphasis on the negative portion of the lift that most lifting techniques ignore. It also has an emphasis on the concentric portion too. What really kills is the pauses on each side of the lift, which is what keeps the “constant tension.”
You certainly need to work on all portions of a lift and change-up the tempo so your body doesn’t become accustomed to the load you are placing on it. If your muscles adapt and get used to what you are doing, they will see no reason to continue to grow. The reason I bring this up is much like if you never focus on the eccentric portion of the lift. It would equally be a mistake to never focus the concentric portion too.
I’m not going to get into the scientific reasons for why all of this works. I leave that kind of thing for Carlos, Matt and others to do. In fact I did a quick search on the site and found there actually are a couple of articles already done about the science behind eccentric lifting. If you are interested this article by Carlos does go into the scientific reasons why it does work.
I personally just tell you what I think works and you can do with it what you want. Plus I don’t feel like I need a lot of science to tell me if your muscles are burning like crazy for long periods as you lift, there is a good chance you are sparking muscle growth. Not that I don’t appreciate the science behind it. I’ve come to enjoy reading up on that sort of thing which I never used to.
The only drawback, if you can call it that, from when I’ve made more of a focus on negatives has been that my heart rate stays much lower throughout the workout. So you don’t burn as many calories (at least during the workout) as you might if you were to work at a much faster pace for the same amount of time. I don’t worry about that anyway, as I can burn more calories in other ways if I really want to. Plus the calorie burn is still pretty good. Mixing in sprints and other high intensity things into your workout could easily make up for that if you wanted.
So if you are looking for nice muscle gains I highly recommend you start controlling the negative part of your lift. Don’t let the weight just drop down or bounce, you want slow smooth motions. You can mix up the tempo too. Down for 2 seconds, up for 1. Down for 4 seconds, up for 2. Down for 3 seconds and explode the weight up fast. Keep that body guessing! Just be sure to control the weight on the way down.
Next week when I go into part two I will switch over to the emotional aspect of controlling the negative, because much like with lifting, it’s important to control the negatives in life.