One of the fundamental rules of training is to keep your workout moving at a brisk pace, and not walk around the gym like you are in a coma. When it comes to chest training, there is more to making the best gains than stepping lively and “getting the lead out” while you’re in the gym. Specialized training such as fast, eccentric exercise can increase muscle size and strength better than traditional bodybuilding workouts.
It’s All About the Contraction
Fast, eccentric training is all about the contraction. The muscles of your body move in one of three ways— through static, concentric or eccentric contractions. While each should be incorporated into your training program for best results, high-speed eccentric contractions, or fast negatives, create more muscle tension than any other form of training. Lower the weigh rapidly, stop suddenly and then slowly move the weight until the muscle is flexed.
Researchers from Harvard University concluded that muscle tension is the most important factor that affects increases in muscle size (hypertrophy). High muscle tension, particularly during the eccentric (lengthening) phase of the lift, causes small injuries to muscle fibers. The fibers get larger and stronger during the muscle repair process, provided that you give your muscles adequate rest and nutrition to heal and grow. Negatives or eccentric muscle contractions create more muscle tension than any other form of exercise. And fast eccentrics create more tension than slow eccentrics.
More Muscle Force
You’ve probably heard about fast negatives and different types of muscle contractions before. If not, here’s a crash course … the CliffsNotes version. There are three types of muscle contractions. With isometric or static contractions, resistance that is applied to the contraction increases muscle tension and generates force without movement of the joint— the muscle contracts but does not shorten, and there is no change in muscle length. An example would be trying to lift an immovable object. Concentric contractions generate force as the muscles shorten, with movement at the joint, as in the biceps shortening during a biceps curl. Eccentric contractions also have movement at the joint, but generate force as the muscle lengthens, when you release the weight. Muscles generate more muscle force during eccentric contractions, compared to static or concentric contraction. Eccentric contractions also generate more force at faster speeds of contraction, unlike other contractions.
Just how important are fast negatives for muscle growth? The research is as robust and strong as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s massive chest during his competitive years. Researchers from McMasters University in Canada found that high-speed eccentric training stimulated muscle hypertrophy and built strength better than slow eccentric training. Fast eccentric training accelerates hypertrophy because of the high muscle tension that is produced during the workout. And a review of seven studies by scientists from Brazil concluded that muscle damage and soreness is most associated with high-speed eccentric exercise.
The Poop on Fiber
Fast negatives will also help your body’s fiber situation. Not the whole-grain variety, but muscle fibers. Your body has two major types of muscle fibers, slow-twitch and fast-twitch. Larger, fast-twitch fibers contract about four times faster than slow-speed fibers. Because fast-twitch fibers have greater growth potential compared to slow-twitch fibers, fast-twitch fibers are optimal for muscle growth. High-speed training preferentially activates larger, fast-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers produce greater muscle force, and they are the preferred fiber type for greater strength gains. So more fast-twitch fibers equals greater gains in size and strength.
Fast, eccentric training can also do a “muscle fiber transformation” number on your body, giving you more muscle-inducing, fast-twitch fibers. Research has demonstrated that fast bench pressing can “shift” muscle fibers from slow- to fast-twitch. In a study by Liu et al., test subjects were divided into two groups, with one group performing standard bench presses and another group performing both standard and accelerated bench presses. The researchers found that the group performing both standard and fast bench presses increased their fast-twitch fiber type by 15 percent, while decreasing the slow-twitch fiber by a similar amount.
Take Your Time, But Hurry Up
Be careful with high-speed eccentric training because there is a greater potential for injury, especially if you progress too quickly. Start off with light weights, and don’t use this technique more than once a week. If you are not sure about how to incorporate high-speed eccentric training into your chest workouts, consult a certified personal trainer.
For a basic chest-training routine that provides the fundamentals for powerful pecs, check out The Best Lifts for a Chiseled Chest.
Isokinetics Exercise Science, 21: 1-9.
Liu Y, Schlumberger A, et al. Different effects on human skeletal myosin heavy chain isoform expression: strength vs. combination training. J Appl Physiol 94, 2282-2288.