When it comes to strength training, there are a lot of different ways you can try and push yourself that little further for that progress boost you’ve been looking for. There is a vast list of different things you can work into your training to see these results, and here we’ll be looking at negative sets.

Negative sets aren’t the most common of set variations, as opposed to supersets or drop sets, for example, but their effectiveness is hard to dispute. You can use them in almost any exercise to really push yourself that extra distance and even get yourself out of a plateau.

What are they

Woman squatting in a power rack

So, what is a negative set? Well, a negative set is essentially just a normal set, but with a huge shift in emphasis. Instead of your usual set pattern where you may do some reps at a reasonable pace with the same rest time, this time you’re changing it up. As you move up in the weights that you’re lifting or even if you are growing fatigued, it’s a good time to give yourself a little boost.

The idea is to use whatever means necessary to give your lift that extra push. You can do this by taking your time dramatically on the eccentric or downward movement of the lift after the contraction. This forces you to really push that bit harder and massively boosts your strength for a whole range of reasons. It works with a spotter too if you’re using weights you can’t quite manage on your own.

What do they do

This brings us to the purpose of negative sets. What is it that lifting like this actually does for your muscles? As you lift the weights, your muscles contract to move the resistance. That’s how lifting weight works and it is also how lifting resistance bands works, but this is a different matter. When you take your time lowering the weight back to your starting position, you’re increasing the time that you are putting your muscles under tension for.

In turn, this is what causes you to put in excess work, and not just from the muscles you are using for this exercise. The supporting muscles are involved and worked out in both movements. This will result in the entire lift being strengthened and as a result, the most possible progress that you could have made from it.

How can you use them?

Man helping woman perform negative reps

To utilise them for yourself, there are a few things that you will have to keep in mind in order to be able to get the most out of them. We discussed a few different ways that you can make the most of your negative sets above, but you need to know the details before you take it any further.

The two most common ways to do them are with a spotter and with assisted equipment. If you are on your own, you should be using a higher weight than you have used for your sets before. However, it should still be one you can control so that you can safely return to your starting position. Doing a barbell bench press on a standard weight bench, for example, with a weight 2x greater than what you are used to is probably not the best idea. You should instead go for a squat on a rack where you have the safety pegs to help you if you get yourself in trouble.

However, exercises like the bench press are the perfect environment to get yourself a spotter. Using a friend or training partner in your negative sets is a great way to maximise the progress for both of you, as well as letting yourself really be pushed to your limit as you try your best to control the weight. This is what is going to give you the strength gain that you’re looking for. And you can still incorporate your usual lifts into the workout too. Even for single-handed exercises like dumbbell bicep curls, for example, when you push yourself that extra mile and just can’t keep that weight up, you can use your spare arm to give yourself that extra lift and feel that burn.

Variation is ultimately the key to progress in all walks of your training. Negative sets are a great way to push your limits and move up in your training, but make sure you are doing them properly. Negative sets are no reason to lose form and even less of a reason to become reliant on your spotter or other equipment to make yourself feel like you can move bigger weights. Make sure to do your standard sets, and just use these when you really need the overload. Stay safe and train smart, and you’ll see the benefits they have to offer.

 

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