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Negative Accentuated &
Off-Weighted Dumbbells
Training for Muscle Contouring

By Wesley James

For more than 20 years, advanced bodybuilders have been advised of the importance of Negative (eccentric) training. They're often told that they should "Get the Negative," but few have truly understood why. As a result, Negative training has gotten very short shrift in most gyms. Part of the purpose of this article is to clarify the benefits of Negative training. It will also re-introduce a little- known approach called "Negative Accentuated" training. Finally, it will reveal a never-before-explained technique for shaping multi-headed muscles to a far greater degree than ever before possible. We call this technique "Off-Weighted" dumbbell training. So, if you think you're already strong enough, big enough and shaped just as you'd like, you don't need this article, turn the page. If you can still afford to improve the size, shape and strength of your muscles, read on.

Let's begin by establishing a few basics. You can't create large muscles with small poundages and you can't work a muscle long and hard; you must choose long or hard. If you want to add size, you must choose hard. If you want to increase endurance, then train long. If you want to change the shape to your muscles, you must work smart. If you want to add strength, so you can handle heavier weights, it's smart to train Negative.

To understand the best way to build a muscle, in other words, to make yourself smart, you must thoroughly inform yourself about the function of the muscle you want to build. You must then train it accordingly. Most standard anatomy texts will tell you about the lifting, squeezing or stabilizing function of a muscle but provide little information about the push, pull or torque leverages of that muscle. While the impetus for growth is the same for all muscles, it is these factors that dictate the shaping effect of exercise. It is precisely this information, particularly for more stubborn muscle groups, we must apply to make muscle grow in the shape we desire.

The calves are notoriously regarded as stubborn muscles but a reason is rarely offered. Most writers dismiss it to genetics, but that is platitudinous. Because the calves work all day, everyday, they are quite accustomed to working long. If you want them to grow, it is more imperative than for other muscles, that you work them hard. They are also accustomed to working within a fairly limited range of motion. To make them grow fully you must work them over their full range of motion. They are rarely used in Negative fashion. Adding Negative exercise, therefore, provides high intensity stimulus. These, coupled with rest, are the factors necessary for calf growth. Without them optimal growth is exceedingly unlikely.

I can remember, years ago, Harold Poole, a former Mr. Universe, sitting at a calf raise machine in the gym at the Henry Hudson Hotel in Manhattan. Tears of pain streamed down his face as he cranked out reps. He didn't know, no one did at the time, that his burning, painful sets, hundreds of reps, couldn't work. He tortured his calves but they scarcely grew. Some would argue that the relative weakness of his calves held him back from an even more successful career than he had. His problem was he worked too long and, however painful his effort, he could not also work hard.

Every trainee, with rare exceptions like Chris Dickerson, start out, like Harold, with scrawny calves. They work on their upper bodies and develop arms, shoulders and chest. Some go further and develop lats, traps and abs. Lately, the trend has expanded to include quads. Still, as a trip to any contest below the national level will quickly illustrate, they don't developed their calves nearly to the level of their upper bodies. The reason is easy to understand if unpleasant to accept. Their calves aren't strong enough to allow them to handle heavy weights. That forces them to set up programs that involve sets of 20-30 reps, 4-5 sets and sometimes 2-3 different exercises. Its small wonder they don't grow. Negative training is the answer. While Negative training, by itself, does little to produce hypertrophy it is the best way yet discovered to increase the strength of a muscle. A strong muscle can handle more poundage and to paraphrase what we said earlier, to build large muscles you must lift large poundages.

The reason muscle forms in the shape it does is complex but we can simplify it for purposes of this discussion. Individual muscle fibers contract on an all or nothing basis, they never partially contract. As increased load calls for further strength output more fibers are called into play. After some number of contractions a fiber becomes depleted and will contract no more for a period of time. When too many fibers have reached this temporary point of depletion, the number of fibers necessary to complete another rep is exceeded by the load. The muscle is then said to have reached its Point of Failure (POF). This state is requisite for a fiber to thicken and thus for a muscle to grow. Logically, controlling which fibers became depleted to the POF influences which fibers grow and thus the shape of the muscle as it grows.

Exercise physiologists once believed that controlling which muscle fibers performed the work during a muscle contraction was impossible. They reasoned, therefore, that shaping a muscle was impossible; you were simply saddled with what nature gave you. The most current research suggests that much more control can be obtained. We need only determine how to affect which fibers exhaust and we will be able to contour our muscle's growth. To do that we need to understand how the body chooses which fibers will contract in response to a given load. Some of these facts are just beginning to become clear through the use of sophisticated Magnetic Resonance Images (MRI) of muscles under load.

Each individual's muscles are different from every other's. Coupled with the length of bones, the elasticity of tendons and ligaments and a variety of other factors these affect lift leverages and torque. These factors are genetically dictated. Altering them, to the extent they can be altered, requires a very precise knowledge of physiognomy, biomechanics and kinetics. Such an approach to affecting a muscle's Fiber Recruitment Priority (FRP) is impractical for the average bodybuilder. Nevertheless, these leverage factors affect how you lift and control the order in which your muscle fibers are recruited. Change the FRP and you change the contours of your muscles.

We can apply this knowledge to stimulate the stubborn calves while recognizing that success requires no small breakthrough in exercise physiology. The technique we're about to describe will increase the strength of your muscles so you can handle more significant weight. Once you can do that, one set, 8-12 Positive reps to POF will produce faster growth than you've ever seen. You know that what you've been doing hasn't worked, give this a try.

At this time there is little that training can do to affect the cross-sectional thickness of a muscle at any particular point along its length. We can, however, change the balance of development between the heads of a multi-headed muscle such as the calf. To do this we need to choose an exercise that isolates the calf muscle as completely as possible. The standing calf raise is the best choice for our purposes. Select a dumbbell of a weight that allows you to perform a minimum of eight and a maximum of twelve very strict Positive reps with one leg before POF. POF for the calf muscle is not the point at which the burn becomes too intense to endure but rather the point where the muscle can not complete another rep. This means you'll need a very heavy dumbbell. Whatever weight you've chosen for 8-12 reps, add 25% more weight to the bar. You'll also need a block that's tall enough so your heels can't touch the ground and wide enough to be stable. Many trainers know about turning the toes in to hit the outer calf and out to hit the inner calf. That technique will be applied here but we'll go further. If you want to hit the inner head of the calf, hold the dumbbell in alignment with the center line of your body. If you were working the outer calf, you'd hold the dumbbell along the outside of your thigh. Place as little of your toes on the block as you can while still maintaining your balance. Turn your toes out on both feet and raise your body weight and the dumbbell with both calves. Remove one foot and slowly, very slowly, lower until your calf is fully stretched. Put the removed foot back and raise again till your calves are in full flex. Remove the same foot and repeat. When one leg can no longer provide Negative resistance, switch and continue with the opposite leg. The next time you do this Negative Accentuated set begin with the opposite leg. If one leg can perform more than 12 reps, the dumbbell is too light.

Working this way is very rough going and should not be attempted by beginners. Advanced trainers should be able to accommodate the demand. In any case, this should be the only movement you perform for that body part. Many will be tempted to perform additional sets or additional movements. Doing so significantly reduces the effectiveness of this protocol by altering the balance of recruited fibers and raising local Cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body's agent for catabolism (muscle breakdown). Additional work trades recuperative capacity for unproductive effort. As I've said, you can't work long and hard. Allow at least two full days (48 hours) rest between workouts. You will find that your poundages increase very rapidly. In fact, if your poundages don't increase 10% every third workout you're probably not training hard enough. In six weeks your poundages should increase more than 75%. Commit to this modality till you're happy with the new strength of your calves but no more than six weeks at a time. If you need further strengthening, wait two full weeks before starting again. You can from time to time return to this routine if your muscles start to lose strength.

Let's look at the example of another stubborn muscle group, but stubborn for different reasons, the tricep. Most bodybuilders have developed their triceps to a degree over the years but they have worked much too long in doing so. This was brought home to me years ago by the great Super- Heavyweight Olympic lifter Paul Anderson. Paul had innovated and pioneered many techniques for developing muscular strength and size. He was little recognized by bodybuilders because he was not interested in the same body aesthetic as they. He was, nevertheless, years ahead of his time. It was Paul with whom I had my first conversations, many years ago, about the technique you are about to learn. It was Paul, to whom I am eternally grateful, who encouraged me to experiment with the technique to prove or disprove its efficacy.

Most bodybuilders want bigger arms and while some have gotten the message that the tricep contributes more to the size of the arm then the bicep they haven't comprehended the whole story. For many, the majority of their tricep work contributes more to the outer, showy part of the tricep. They should be emphasizing the under, long head of the tricep, which is more significant to the size of the arm. This error is born of ignorance. The tricep as its name implies is a three headed muscle. Each head has a different primary function and can be separately targeted with the proper exercise choice. The outer head is activated when the forearm is extended away from the upper arm while the palm is pronated. This is the case in most pressing movements. The lower head is used for the same function when the palm is supinated. It becomes an assisting muscle, regardless of palm position, when it is stretched by raising the elbow above shoulder level. The under head's function is to move the arm back toward your body. It is also activated whenever the arms work behind the back. These are actions the body rarely performs against resistance. For that reason, novice bodybuilders achieve some growth from almost any tricep work. More advanced trainers get growth, as Vince Gironda has long preached, from Dips.

The best isolation movement for the under-head of the tricep is the tricep kickback. Try this. Off- Weight a dumbbell with a weight that allows you only 8-12 reps before Failure. Load 80 to 90% of the weight on one side and only 10 to 20% on the other side. Don't exceed the 90/10 ratio as greater differences place undue torque stress on the joints creating a risk of injury. This risk is also why you must perform these reps very slowly. Pick up the dumbbell so the heavier side is closest to the thumb. Keep your elbow extremely close to your body. Now, more slowly than usual, perform both the Positive and Negative portions of a full range movement. Pronate your wrist as far as possible at the top of the movement, supinating at the bottom. You must fully but not forcefully lock your elbow at the completion of each rep. This may initially entail reducing the amount of weight you handle. When you reach POF you will probably fail in the extreme upper part of the movement. Without stopping, perform a series of partial movements in this upper range of the movement maintaining as full a pronation as you reasonably can. Perform the Negative movement at one third the speed of the Positive movement. The set will be complete when you reach Negative POF or you've performed twice the number of reps you did before reaching First Failure. Suppose you failed after ten reps in the full movement; you would then perform up to twenty additional reps in the partial movement. You can expect these additional reps to be painful. You will want to cheat and throw the weight up so you can lock out. Resist this tendency. Every rep must be strict. If you can't increase your poundage by 5% every third workout and maintain absolute strictness in the movement, you need some Negative Accentuated training. For practical reasons, this requires a training partner. If you don't have a training partner, you can try Negative Accentuated dips, perhaps with added weight.

It is important that Off-Weight training be performed only for isolation movements. Compound movements make it too difficult to control FRP. The deciding factor as to which part of the movement you should perform in the partial movements is dependent on where in the movement POF occurs. This is dictated by leverage factors. It, in turn, influences which partial movement pre- failure point or post-failure point produces a more intense eccentric contraction. Always choose the portion of the movement which produces the most intense contraction and move to and from that point and the POF position. These may be as short as one third of the full range. Don't confuse these actions with the more common "burn" movement. (Burns are pumping movements which can cause a muscle to fail prematurely from interstitial insufficiency rather than fiber depletion.) These partial movements are Negative Partials. They are effective because part of the resistance in a Positive (concentric) movement is friction. Where you fail within the movement is the point where the Load + Friction + Leverage Disadvantage combine to exceed the available momentary lift force of the non- depleted fibers. If you can reduce any one of these three factors, you could probably complete another rep or more. Switching to Negative contraction reverses the effect of friction making it work to your advantage. (It also encourages compensatory isoform switching of Type IIb cells to Type IIa.) In any case, your muscles should be rotated during movements to place the greatest load on the fibers of the under-developed area. Your body will tell you a great deal about when you've gotten it right. Feel the muscles work and watch them grow. Six weeks of Off-Weight dumbbell training can change your body for life. Combined with Negative Accentuated training to get your strength up they may give you the body you always wanted. Try them!

Copyright © 1996 Physique Tools and Wesley James

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