Rep Speed’Fast Reps vs. Slow Reps for Strength and Power
First off, you should understand that power and strength are two completetly different things. Power equals how far you lifted a weight, how much weight you lifted and how fast you lifted it.
Strength can refer to the absolute amount of weight you can lift, as in a one-rep maximum rep’called maximum strength’or it can refer to the contractive capacity of a particular muscle’called absolute strength. Absolute strength occurs when all of the muscle fibers of a muscle’100 percent of them’contract in response to maximum muscle stimulation. In reality, it’s impossible to use 100 percent of your strength or muscle fibers during a set because of the body’s built-in safety mechanisms, which are designed to prevent injury from such an overload. Probably no more than 30 percent of muscle fibers contract during a set taken to maximum muscular failure.
There are three kinds of muscular contractions: concentric, eccentric and isometric. Concentric contractions are used to lift weight. During concentric contractions, a muscle shortens in response to joint angle changes, say, the bending of your arm as you curl a weight. Eccentric contractions are used to lower weight. The muscle lengthens as it contracts because the joint angle changes; for example, when you straighten your arms as you lower a bar. Then there are isometric contractions. In this case, there’s no movement of the muscle or the joint. You push against an unmovable object, such as a doorframe or a bar locked in place on a power rack.
Negative-Only and Negative-Accentuated Training
This is a very effective method for increasing strength almost immediately. Arthur Jones, who really started the negative-only, or eccentric-only, lifting craze in the mid-’70s, says a man should easily be able to lower at least 40 percent more than he can raise. For example, if your barbell curl max is 100 pounds for six reps, you should easily be able to lower 140 pounds for six or more reps. If your bench press max is 250 pounds, your eccentric, or negative, max should be around 350 pounds. If your squat max is 400 pounds, you should be able to lower 560 pounds for reps.
Nobody is quite sure why or how negative-only lifting works so well, but work well it does. During my university days in the mid-’70s, I increased my seated behind-the-neck-press maximum of 145 pounds for six reps (at a bodyweight of 180 pounds) to 175 pounds for six reps’after only one week of using negative-only lifting! I was also able to do an easy seated press with 200 pounds for one rep. I did only two negative-only workouts during the week, each consisting of just three sets of negative-only seated behind-the-neck presses with 200 pounds, averaging six to eight reps a set. Each negative-only rep lasted anywhere from four or five seconds to 10 seconds. When the weight started dropping like a rock, meaning I could no longer slow or control its descent at all, the set was terminated.
I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to try negative-only lifting. Arthur Jones was writing those articles in Iron Man full of glowing reports of people making incredible gains in both muscular size and strength. The problem is, Where do you find people willing to lift a weight into place so you can lower it? I kept a 200-pound barbell set under the couch in the living room I shared with three other roommates. That made it very convenient to do the odd set here and there. I didn’t have to worry about talking some stranger at the gym into lifting the bar into place for me. My three nonweight-training roommates gladly did it for me at night while dinner was cooking. It doesn’t take too long to do only three sets, and it wasn’t very hard for three men to lift a 200-pound barbell overhead so I could lower it. Getting a few men to lift 400, 500 or 600 pounds so you can do negative-only squats or deadlifts is probably another story altogether.
After lowering 200 pounds for six to eight reps for a couple of workouts, I was shocked at how light 175 pounds felt. Any way you look at it, to add 30 pounds to any lift in just one week is amazing’especially after doing so few sets and just two workouts. That’s the nice thing about negative-only lifting; a few sets is all you need to bust through a plateau and greatly increase your strength. You don’t need to do many sets or many workouts to benefit from it. If I could add 30 pounds to my behind-the-neck-press weight for six reps in less than a week, imagine what you could do with bench presses or squats.
Iron Man writer Dennis DuBruiel theorized that maybe negative-only lifting worked because it literally scared the body into overcompensation’the weights are much heavier than what the body is accustomed to. Possibly the threshold of the Golgi organs (the stretch receptors in the tendons, ligaments, fascia and connective tissue that fire and shut a muscle down when a joint or muscle experiences too much overload and/or stretch and might become injured) is raised quickly too. Other people who tried negative-only training tell me that, yes, they quickly made huge gains in strength, but then further gains were slow to come. Even if that’s true, I doubt whether many of you would turn down a quick 50 pounds on your bench press or squat max. It probably just means you should use negative training as more of a plateau buster than a frequent training method.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to look at repetitions in a new light. Experiment with different ways of doing reps, doing high and low reps, with different speeds, different ranges of motion and accentuating the negative and lifting the positive in a more explosive manner. If you’re currently at a plateau in your training, I suggest you immediately change the way you do your reps. If you’re doing low reps, change to high reps. If you’re doing strict reps, change to more cheating reps. If you’re doing fast reps, change to slower reps’even some slow-mo reps’and if you’re doing full reps, try some partial reps and constant-tension reps. If you’ve got a sticking point on a particular exercise or lift, try some isometrics.
I can guarantee that variation will bring about a new adaptive response and your muscles will’for a short time anyway’grow bigger and stronger again, assuming your diet is good, you’re getting lots of sleep, and you’re not overtraining. IM