Using negatives to break through your gymnastics barriers
Do you want your first pull-up, push-up, muscle-up, or dip? If you already have one, you probably want to start making them look effortless. Maybe, you’re wondering why you’ve been stuck using bands, but that pull-up isn’t getting any closer. Gymnasts have used one secret for years to develop strength and stability, and it can help you get your gymnastics on—the negative.
First, let’s take a look at muscle contraction; I’ll use the pull-up as an example. There are three types of active contraction that use a single load:
- Concentric Contraction—Muscle fibers shorten under load. This is the up phase of the pull-up, and the weakest type of contraction. To pull yourself up, you have to overcome the force that gravity exerts on your body.
- Isometric Contraction—Muscle fibers remain at the same length. Holds and carries are examples of isometric contractions. Holds are a muscles second-strongest movement. You need to match the force of gravity pound-for-pound to remain in the hanging position.
- Eccentric Contraction—Muscle fibers lengthen under a load. This is the descent during a pull-up (negative), and it’s the strongest type of muscle contraction. Muscle contraction force will be smaller than the force of gravity. The closer your muscle contraction comes to matching the force of gravity, the slower the negative.
Concentric = Muscle gets shorter
Isometric = Muscle stays one length, holds a joint still.
Eccentric = Muscle gets longer
Muscles can safely handle the greatest resistance during eccentric contraction. Even if you can’t perform a strict pull-up, you may be able to descend slowly through the entire pull from the top down. The benefits of slow negatives are three-fold.
- Strength—plain and simple, negatives make you stronger. Loads beyond your maximum concentric capabilities stimulate more muscle fibers and cause greater muscle damage. More Active Fibers + More Fiber Damage = More Muscle Growth.
- Position—Pressing/Pulling heavy loads makes it difficult to focus on form. Making the weight move is at the front of your mind, especially if you’re the weight! With negatives you can focus more on holding strong position as the weight pulls you through range of motion.
- Motor Learning—Want perfect form? Perform the perfect negative. Even if you don’t have the raw strength to perform pull-ups, muscle ups, or handstand-pushups, performing negative reps with good position and control develops efficient movement patterns that your body will remember when it’s time to go the other direction.
Remember, negatives can help you reach almost all your gymnastics goals. Your body can handle over maximal loads during eccentric (negative) contraction. Training with these controlled negatives improves your strength, position, and motor learning; so if you want to break through your gymnastics barriers, start using negatives.