Muscular Misnomer #1
"Muscle Contraction is the only way your muscles can grow. That’s why dropping weights is so common. It is ALL about the pump!"
Sorry to break down the walls of “Bro City” where you, Broseph Stalin, and Broseidon Lord of the Brocean all reside, but the truth of the matter is the pump is NOT the only way muscles grow.
When you are performing most the exercises in the gym you will be putting your muscle through two distinct phases. The first one is the Concentric phase. This is the contraction of the movement also known as the rep or where you pick the weight up. This is what everyone thinks builds the muscle. That is partially true, as you will learn, but it is not the only way. Read on.
The lesser acknowledged brother of the Concentric phase is known as the Eccentric Phase. This is the lowering of the weight or the lengthening of the muscle as you return to a resting position. This would be when you lower the bar when you are doing curls, lowering the bar during a bench press, or lowering your body during a pull up.
Though most people agree that controlling the weight down should be done in order to keep yourself safe from injury, there is actually proof that supports the benefits of the eccentric motion of an exercise. Studies have shown (Eliasson J, et al. Maximal lengthening contractions increase p70 S6 kinase phosphorylation in human skeletal muscle in the absence of nutritional supply. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Dec;291(6):E1197-205.) that the eccentric phase has a greater impact on protein synthesis in the body. For those who are unaware, protein synthesis in simple terms is the process of building muscle in your body.
So, to put it in even simpler terms, studies have shown that the Eccentric or the “lowering” of the exercise or movement promotes more muscular growth than the concentric portion.
That is not to say that we should ONLY focus on “lowering weights” and ditch the whole idea of “lifting” weights. Just like anything in life, especially anything that involves the fitness industry, moderation is key and information like this should be used as a tool as opposed to a full-blown modality. The concentric or the “lifting” of the weight still is required for optimum muscle growth. The “Pump" you get and the result of all the blood flowing to a particular muscle is treated like a threat to the body, thus triggers the muscle that it needs to grow.
So how do you as an educated consumer and gym patron effectively utilize this information?
Negatives are when you start your movement at the end of the concentric phase (when the weight is near your face with a preacher curl, or when your chin is at the bar during a pullup) and control the weight down. These negatives are usually best performed AFTER your regular set or at the end of your workout. These tend to be “overload” work for your muscles, meaning that you can perform MORE work than your body would be able to perform.
For example, if you are performing a preacher curl, to utilize negatives, you have someone help you get the bar up to your face, then you would lower the weight down for about 3 seconds as you control its decent, then you would repeat for a few more reps. There comes a point where your muscle will not be able to safely lower the weight anymore.
You can perform other Negatives with many other exercises as well. Pullups, deadlifts, benches, leg curls you name it and you can do it. I would suggest always utilizing a spotter if you are ever going to give these a try because when your muscles get THAT tired, weird things can happen that you did not expect. Trust me, take it from someone who has dropped many a bar on his foot.
So, there you have it.
If you have any questions about anything I talk about in these blogs, want to ask me questions about your training, or want to work with me, shoot me an email at Sam@SamBrownStrength.com .
I look forward to hearing from you!