Drew Baye on the floor after a high intensity training workout

Recent Experiments with Negative Emphasized Training

I had a great workout earlier, so good I ended up needing a bit of floor time before I was able to train my wife (who cheerfully snapped photos of me laying exhausted on the floor):

  1. MedX Neck Extension
  2. MedX Neck Flexion
  3. Stiff Leg Deadlifts on the Nautilus XPLoad
  4. Weighted Dips on the Nautilus Omni Multi Exercise
  5. Weighted Chin Ups on the Nautilus Omni Multi Exercise
  6. MedX Leg Press
  7. MedX Shoulder Press
  8. MedX Row
  9. Calf Raise on the Nautilus Omni Multi Exercise

Drew Baye on the floor after a high intensity training workout

All of the exercises were performed using a negative emphasized protocol, except the calf raise which was performed in a negative accentuated manner. Negative emphasized reps are something I talked about with Ryan Hall several years ago, and and am revisiting because he reminded me of it in a recent phone conversation, and shared some compelling reasons for giving it a try. I also discussed the method a while back with Wayne Westcott, who did a study comparing negative emphasized repetitions and other advanced high intensity techniques and wrote about it in Building Strength and Stamina (Chapter 5: High Intensity Strength Training).

Westcott compared the effectiveness of several advanced high intensity training techniques with experienced trainees who had plateaued rather than previously untrained subjects like most strength training studies, and found negative emphasized repetitions beat all the rest. The negative emphasized group experienced the greatest increases in strength over a six week period, compared with the standard Nautilus 2/4 protocol, breakdowns, assisted reps, and SuperSlow.

Negative emphasized reps consist of a moderately-slow three second positive, followed by a very-slow ten second negative, with emphasis on very controlled turnarounds due to the ability to handle heavier weights. Surprisingly, during a previous negative emphasized workout while performing the MedX shoulder press  I encountered the “runaway negative” discussed on the Renaissance Exercise web site earlier this year, as an indicator of highly efficient inroad (which their protocol emphasizes). This shows despite emphasizing load and muscular tension over metabolic stress, the negative emphasized protocol still produces fast enough fatigue (most likely due to greater microtrauma) to overwhelm the relatively higher and more slowly-reduced negative strength.

It’s important to mention that fatigue or “inroad” is about more than metabolic stress. Microtrauma, which is achieved more effectively with higher loads, also contributes to fatigue by reducing the cross bridges that can be formed and even the number of muscle fibers able to contribute to force production. This is something I’ll be covering in more detail later.

I usually perform between seven and ten repetitions, taking around 8 seconds per rep (three to lift, three to lower, plus turnarounds or a “squeeze technique” on simple and compound pulling movements), so to maintain a relatively consistent time under load I’m using a range of three to five with the negative emphasized repetitions.

In a way, this negative emphasized protocol is a reversal of Ken Hutchins’ original guidelines for SuperSlow training which appear in chapter 9 of The Nautilus Advanced Bodybuilding Book by Ellington Darden. At that time (early 1980’s) Hutchins’ recommended a time under load of thirty to seventy seconds (two to five repetitions) using a ten-second positive positive movement and a four-second negative.

While the guidelines for SuperSlow training were meant to optimize fatigue by emphasizing the more metabolically-demanding positive while keeping the duration of the stronger and less metabolically-demanding negative shorter (in part due to the unloading caused by excessive friction in earlier machines), negative emphasized repetitions optimize the other important elements in stimulating muscular strength and size gains: tension and microtrauma.

This doesn’t mean negative emphasized repetitions don’t also have a considerable metabolic effect. Performed with an adequately heavy weight and relatively short rest intervals between exercises, the protocol is just as effective for metabolic conditioning as any other method performed for that purpose.

Since it is possible to handle more weight due to both the longer negative and fewer reps per time it is even more important to maintain strict form during the turnarounds, especially the lower one.

When teaching new clients turnaround technique, I tell them to approach the start and end points of the exercise as they would a stop sign while driving. You don’t wait ’til you get to the sign to slam on the breaks, then slam gas pedal and blast off through the intersection. You gradually slow to a stop, then gradually accelerate. Do the same during an exercise; anticipate the start or end point and gradually slow to a stop so that you are barely moving when you reach it, then barely start moving in the other direction and gradually accelerate to a controlled speed.

Think smooth, continuous, controlled. Proper exercise form resembles the slow, flowing movements of Tai Chi Chuan hand forms, not the quick, rapid movements of boxing drills.

After a few negative emphasized workouts you’ll get a feel for when you’ve only capable of one more negative, and when you reach that point you should perform the final negative as slowly as possible.

Although you are attempting to move extremely slowly, at some point you will be contracting as hard as you can just to maintain a controlled speed. When this happens you should be trying to reverse the direction of movement rather than just slow it down. You won’t be able to, but I’ve found  it makes a big difference to think about trying to reverse it rather than thinking about just trying to slow it down.

Drew Baye performing stiff-leg deadlifts during a negative emphasized workout

Even if using equipment or performing free weight exercises in a manner providing a resistance curve congruent with your strength curve, which would normally result in failure occurring randomly over the range of motion of the positive, failure seems to most frequently occur around the start point with this protocol, especially if the final negative is performed as I described.

Considering you’re much stronger during the negative than the positive if you can’t reverse the movement during the negative you can be pretty sure you’re not going to be able to lift the weight again, unless the resistance curve is off and the start is too light. If that’s the case and you do fail at some point during the positive, just because you’ve reached positive failure doesn’t mean the exercise is over and you should just set down the weight.

If failure occurs at some point during the positive, continue to contract as intensely as possible, but do not alter your positioning or alignment or sacrifice form in any way for the sake of completing the rep. Just continue to contract as intensely as possible for as long as you can. If the weight selection was correct, this shouldn’t be long, and after a short period it should take everything you’ve got to slow down the negative as described above.

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