Know Your Exercise – Part 3: Negative Sit-Ups
This is the third in a series of blogs in which we analyse some significant weight training exercises that somehow miss the attention of exercisers!
We look at the Negative Sit Up (NSU) – “negative” means against gravity or, if you want a techno label, “Retro-Gravity Lie-DOWN” (RGLD!
We are frequently queried about the effectiveness and safety of the Sit-Up. Sit-ups are effective in developing core, stability and strength. Unfortunately, abdominal exercises are not taken seriously by the average gym goer. These exercises actively assist in projecting the “six pack”. but for people with low back problems and a weak core to begin with, they can pose a tremendous safety issue and hence a cause for demotivation.
The exercise specifically targets the lower abdominals and hip flexors.
Science has demonstrated that muscles are significantly stronger during the eccentric contraction phase of an exercise than in the concentric contraction phase. Some studies have concluded that athletes are capable of exerting between 20-60% more force during the eccentric phase of an exercise compared to the concentric phase.
One study suggests there is over 55 to 58% of type I or slow twitch fiber in the abdominal muscles – rectus abdomen, external and internal obliques and transverse abdominis – with the balance being Type II or fast twitch fibers. Research shows that eccentric training recruits more fast-twitch fibers. As you know, fast-twitch fibers are the muscle fibers that have the greatest potential for size and strength.
[Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/161688/, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17313264/]
Other studies have found that negative reps combined with blood flow restriction (BFR) training resulted in significant muscle growth, which can be ideal for those working around an injury. We will discuss BFR in another blog,
If you are currently stagnating in a plateau in your abs and weight training program, using some overloading eccentrics (with the help of a partner, for the sake of safety), can help your muscles build strength and get accustomed to handling heavier loads which will pay dividends to improved performance during the concentric portion of the lift down the road.
Negative reps also help make the ligaments and tendons more resilient against strain and injury. This is important for field sport athletes who subject their bodies to explosive forces repeatedly each and every day. Believe it or not, negative reps can actually increase your flexibility.
Performing both the eccentric and concentric contractions of the exercise tire the muscles. Most of the ATP molecules are consumed while contracting the muscle fibers. The negative reps thus help increase the size and strength of your muscles while conserving ATP energy!
How often can you do NSUs?
Negative reps create greater amounts of muscle damage which can increase recovery time following training – that is, extend the period of recovery from DOMS or delayed onset of muscle soreness. These exercises also challenge the Central Nervous System (CNS).
Like in the case of other negative rep exercises, here too, please exercise with caution. Negative reps are normally to be done by intermediate and advanced exercisers and athletes – the idea is to lower a resistance that is more than your 100% limit strength. So, they work best if used for just 3 to 5 reps per workout; always the first rep of the set, and never on consecutive sets, it is recommended. Use for no longer than a month at a time.
In a traditional 4 or 5-day training split, you can perform negatives every other workout; if you are training just 3 days per week, using some negative reps each workout would be safe.
Watch Bhaskar Kamble demonstrate this challenging exercise –
- Exhale as you pull your torso into sit-up position and pause.
- Flex your arms so that they are straight out and forward.
- Eccentric contraction: Inhale as you slowly and deliberately lower your torso down to the floor until your back is flat on the floor. Be conscious of lowering your body to supine position as if you are “unrolling” yourself. Do not fall down!
Try out the above exercise for 3 to 5 reps as indicated taking about 2 to 3 seconds to lower yourself to the floor.
Now do the negative rep –
- Hold a weight across your chest and do the 2-seconds negative rep – subsequently, increase the duration to 3, 4 and even 5 seconds
- Without / with a weight across your chest, do the negative rep, 4 to 5 seconds per negative rep.
- Without / with a weight across your chest, start the negative rep until you reach midpoint where you will pause for at least 5 to 10 seconds and after that continue to lower torso to the floor.
- With arms extended by side of ears so that arms and torso are in same line.
Heera Solanki demonstrates the start and finish of three variations based on the position of her arms.
Do you feel any difference in the location and / or intensity of “burn” on the muscles because of changing the speed of negative rep?