The negative bench press is a great tool to have in your training whether you are training for strength gain or muscle mass for your chest and triceps. However, there are important things to consider before you throw it into your program.
So what is a negative bench press? The negative bench press is a bench press where the focus is on lowering the barbell to the chest in a slow and controlled manner. It can help increase your confidence when lifting heavy weights and increase muscle mass by overloading the chest and triceps through greater time under tension.
In this article, I will discuss exactly what a negative bench press is, how to perform the exercise, the pros and cons of the exercise, and other things you’ll want to take into consideration when adding it to your program.
Negative Bench Press Overview
The negative bench press is a regular bench press performed in a specific way where the focus is on the lowering portion of the repetition. It will require a regular bench press setup with safety racks along with a spotter.
During the lowering portion of the repetition, there are options for how long you want each repetition to last. The longer the rep, the more time under tension there is and the more fatiguing it is.
You can choose to use a load that is either less than your 1 repetition maximum or no more than 160% of your 1 repetition maximum. Caution should be taken if using a load heavier than your 1 repetition maximum.
The negative bench press is also known as the eccentric bench press. The eccentric refers to the lowering portion of the repetition. As a rule of thumb, you should take between 3 to 10 seconds on the lowering phase.
The ideal bench press tempo for increasing maximal strength is different for each lifter and will depend on your experience level. Find out more in my article The Best Bench Press Tempo (How Fast Should You Bring The Bar Down).
Negative Bench Press: Muscles Worked
The muscles used in the negative bench press are the:
- Shoulders (Front Deltoid Muscles)
- Chest (Pectoral Muscles)
The front deltoids are located on the front of your upper arm. They are responsible for bringing your arm upwards in front of you.
The pectoral muscles are located on your chest and connect from your ribcage to your arms. They are responsible for bringing your arms from pointing outward to forward in front of you.
The triceps are located at the back of your upper arm and are responsible for straightening your elbows.
For a complete guide on the muscles used in different variations of the bench press, check out Muscles Used In The Bench Press (A Complete Guide).
How To Do A Negative Bench Press: Step By Step
Although the technique for the negative bench press is similar to the regular bench press, the setup and execution are different and require some more specific actions.
Step 1: Set The Safety Rack For The Bench Press
The first thing you must do is ensure that you are either using a bench press machine that has safety arms on it, or you are performing a bench press with a bench inside a power rack or squat rack that has safety arms.
Set the safety rack to about chest level so that if you decide to finish the rep with the barbell on the bottom, you have a safe place for the barbell to rest.
The safety racks are also important even if you have spotters that help you get the barbell up again for subsequent reps. If they struggle to get the barbell back up, the safety rack provides a safe mechanism for catching the barbell.
Step 2: Lie Down On The Bench Press
Lie down on a bench press with your eyes underneath the barbell with your hands placed in your regular bench press hand position. Keep your shoulder blades pinched back and down.
If you are not sure where to put your hands, aim for putting the pinky around the rings on the barbell.
For more information on the bench press grip width and wrist positioning, check out my other articles:
Step 3: Unrack The Barbell
With the assistance of spotters, unrack the barbell and bring it out until it is hovering over the shoulder level.
Make sure you drive your legs into the ground to help stabilize your setup and keep your upper back and shoulder blade position for the bench press.
Leg drive is an important part of the bench press. Find out why and learn how to properly use it in my article The Proper Way To Use Leg Drive For Bench Press.
Step 4: Lower The Barbell
Take a deep breath in, hold your breath and brace before lowering the barbell. When you lowering the barbell, make sure that you slowly lower the barbell at a constant speed.
Bring it down towards your lower chest, while keeping your elbows underneath the barbell at all times.
Once you have reached the bottom position, allow the spotters to assist you with bringing the barbell back up to the rack, or rest the barbell on the safety arms.
Step 5: Reset For Further Optional Reps
If you are performing more than one repetition, ensure that the spotters help you bring the barbell back to the starting position, then start over at step 1.
4 Pros of The Negative Bench Press
While the negative bench press can be used to help increase a lifter’s bench press strength, there are several other advantages to including this exercise in your routine.
The 4 benefits of the negative bench press:
- It can be effective at increasing muscle mass and strength
- It can be effective at increasing muscle power
- It can improve confidence at managing heavy weight
- It can be effective at improving technique
1. It Can Be Effective at Increasing Muscle Mass and Strength
The negative bench press can be very effective at increasing muscle thickness and strength in the chest, shoulders, and tricep muscles.
A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology study analyzed the effects of doing negative bench presses with submaximal intensity (lifting less than your 1 rep max) and supramaximal intensity (lifting more than your 1 rep max). Researchers concluded that both methods can result in increased muscle mass.
The study also showed that submaximal intensity is good enough at increasing muscle mass and strength without the fatiguing effort from going heavier than your 1 rep max. As such, submaximal negative bench presses can be beneficial for people who are unable to train with heavier weights.
2. It Can Be Effective at Increasing Muscle Power
The negative bench press can also be effective at increasing muscle strength and power.
Researchers from New Zealand discovered that long-term negative repetition (eccentric) training can bring about greater improvements in muscle strength and power due to increases in size in type II muscle fibers, which support fast, explosive movements.
3. It Can Improve Confidence at Managing Heavy Weight
By exposing yourself to heavier weights and performing negative reps with them, you increase your confidence over time, which can be helpful for powerlifting performance.
This is particularly useful if you freak out and lose your technique under heavier loads.
4. It Can Be Effective at Improving Technique
The lowering portion of the bench press is the last portion of the repetition to fatigue if you go to failure. Therefore, performing negative reps in the bench press is a good opportunity to practice controlling the barbell during the descent.
If you control the descent well, you will be in a better position to press the barbell back up. This is particularly useful if you struggle with having a wobbly bench press.
Related Article: Diamond Push Up: How To, Benefits, Muscles Worked
3 Cons of The Negative Bench Press
Despite being an effective exercise for increasing strength and muscle mass, the negative bench press does have some drawbacks.
Here are 3 cons of the negative bench press:
- It is not better than traditional loading to increase strength
- It can be highly fatiguing for future sessions
- There is a higher risk of injury
1. It Is Not Better Than Traditional Loading To Increase Strength
The negative bench press may not be necessarily superior to a regular bench press at increasing muscular strength. This is a con if we take into consideration how much more effort the negative bench press requires to set up and execute versus the regular bench press.
Researchers from the University of Miami study discovered that performing negative reps with weight heavier than your 1 rep max is not superior at increasing strength when compared to regular loading. Although the subjects tested leg press strength, one can assume that these results can be applied to the bench press as well.
2. It Can Be Highly Fatiguing for Future Sessions
The negative bench press can be incredibly fatiguing, especially if you use loads heavier than your 1 rep max.
This fatigue can negatively impact how much training you can get done within the training session and in sessions in the near future. It can cause a lot of soreness that will reduce your work capacity.
Related Article: How Many Times Per Week Should You Bench Press?
3. There Is a Higher Risk of Injury
There can be a higher risk of injury with the negative bench press. This is particularly the case when you use loads heavier than your 1RM.
If you are not fully recovered from previous exercises or previous training sessions, performing the negative bench press can lead to muscle strains.
As one study from the Journal of Physiology shows, negative reps can be very damaging to muscle fibers, suggesting that time and recovery should be taken into consideration. This may also mean that it may not be worth it to have the negative bench press in your program.
Common Mistakes of The Negative Bench Press
Here are 4 common mistakes with the negative bench press:
1. Performing the Negative Bench Press When Already Sore
You should avoid performing the negative bench press if you are already sore in the chest, shoulders, or triceps. You’ll have a higher risk of muscle strain or other injuries if you perform it in a fatigued state.
2. Performing The Negative Bench Press Too Often
You should not perform the negative bench press too frequently, as this can be fatiguing and reduce how much training you can fit in for your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Naturally, you cannot perform that many repetitions with the negative bench press. If you do it too often, you may actually reduce your ability to train more, meaning that you might not accumulate an optimal amount of training.
You should keep the frequency of the negative bench press to strictly once per week to allow ample time for recovery.
3. Relaxing When You Reach the Bottom
The bottom position of the negative bench press is often the hardest and weakest point in the exercise. A common mistake that people make is that they relax at the bottom and lose their form.
You want to make sure that you are under control throughout the exercise. If you are someone who collapses at the bottom, a good cue to remember is to bring your chest upwards to meet the barbell. This encourages your shoulder blades to stay pinched back and down, with your back mildly arched.
Who Should Do A Negative Bench Press
Before you consider the negative bench press, you should ensure that you are at least an intermediate lifter. The negative bench press should be avoided for novices or untrained individuals. This is because the negative bench press requires a level of basic technique and body awareness.
You should do a negative bench press if you want to try and enhance your technique and control particularly at the bottom of the range of motion. It is very useful for people who collapse at the bottom of the range of motion or those who are inconsistent between reps.
You should also consider doing a negative bench press if you want to improve your confidence dealing with heavy loads. If heavy loads are a psychological challenge for you in a way where you execute the bench press differently than you do with lighter loads, the negative bench press is an excellent exercise for you.
How To Program A Negative Bench Press
Here are 4 things to consider when programming a negative bench press:
- Exercise Order
Intensity refers to the percentage of your 1 rep max with which you perform the exercise. This dictates the absolute load you are lifting.
Your negative bench press 1 rep max is roughly 165% of your bench press 1 rep max. You can use this as a starting point to determine the weight you want to use for the exercise.
As I mentioned earlier, you can train the negative bench press with submaximal intensity (less than your bench press 1 rep max) or supramaximal intensity (more than your bench press 1 rep max).
You may choose a submaximal intensity if you are trying to improve technique or just simply increase muscle mass.
You may choose supramaximal intensity if you are trying to get stronger or trying to get more confident when lifting heavy loads.
Volume refers to how many total reps are performed for the exercise in a session.
Here is a rough guide to how many total reps you should do for each intensity range for the negative bench press:
(percentage of bench press 1 rep max)
|120% to 140%||Up to 2|
|100% to 120%||Up to 3|
|90% to 100%||Up to 6|
|80% to 90%||Up to 12|
Frequency refers to how many times per week the negative bench press should be performed.
In most cases, due to the fatiguing nature of the negative bench press, it should only be done once per week or once every two weeks.
4. Exercise Order
Exercise order refers to where in the session the negative bench press is performed. The negative bench press is not recommended for performing at the end of a training session as it requires a level of freshness to perform, especially if you are dealing with loads heavier than your 1 rep max.
It should ideally be the first or second upper body pushing movement in a training session.
Negative Bench Press: Regressions
I mentioned above that the negative bench press should not be done by novices. If you are new to lifting, here are 2 negative bench press regressions you can try.
1. Long Pause Bench Press
A long pause bench press is a great alternative to the negative bench press. It is similar to the traditional bench press, except that there is a considerably longer pause at the bottom of the range of motion.
This increases the time under tension at the bottom where the chest, shoulder, and tricep muscles are most stretched out. When your muscles are most stretched out, it is when the muscle is longest and training at this range can offer a bigger boost for muscle gain as you recover.
2. Tempo Bench Press
The tempo bench press is very similar to the negative bench press in the sense that you are slowing down the descent during the lowering portion of the repetition.
However, you don’t necessarily need a spotter to help you lift the weight back up. You’re also lifting lighter loads, so you can do more reps in a set.
Negative Bench Press: Progressions
For advanced lifters, here are 2 negative bench press progressions that can provide more of a challenge.
1. Bench Press With Weight Releasers
The bench press with weight releasers is a great way to progress the negative bench press. It involves using equipment called weight releasers.
Weight releases are external loads that are attached to each end of the bar. They detach when you reach the bottom range of motion so you can lift the weight back up and rerack it safely. They allow you to overload the eccentric portion of the bench press while developing explosiveness in the concentric portion of the lift.
2. Negative Banded Bench Press
The negative banded bench press is performed exactly like the negative bench press, except that there are resistance bands attached to the ground or bottom of the bench press to the ends of the barbell.
This means that the tension is greatest at the top and the tension decreases over time as you lower the weight. This is particularly useful for people who want to improve their lockout.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Should a Negative Rep Last?
A negative rep should last between 3 to 10 seconds. You may want to choose a shorter duration for higher intensity loads and a long duration for lighter loads.
Are Negatives Good for Hypertrophy?
Negatives are good for hypertrophy as demonstrated by numerous studies mentioned above. Most studies show that long-term emphasis on the repetition negative is superior for gaining muscle. As such, negative bench presses can be a good way to progressively overload to build muscle and break through plateaus.
Other Bench Press Guides
- 6 Decline Bench Press Benefits (Plus, 1 Drawback)
- 8 Close Grip Bench Press Benefits (Plus, 1 Drawback)
- Reverse Grip Bench Press: How-To, Benefits, Muscles Worked
- 3-Board Bench Press: Technique, Benefits, How To Program
- Reverse Band Bench Press: How-To, Benefits, Why Do It?
- Dead Bench Press: How To, Benefits, Muscles Worked
- Touch and Go Bench Press: Should You Pause or Not?
- The Slingshot for Bench Press (Complete Guide & Review)
- Cambered Bar Bench Press: Benefits, How-To, Technique
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press: How To, Pros, Cons
As useful as the negative bench press can be, please do use caution when you perform it, especially if you are dealing with loads heavier than your 1 rep max. Training safely is important so you can train for the long-term to maximize gains.
If you do want to add the negative bench press to your routine, you should do it sparingly as they can result in a lot of fatigue. You should also reconsider its place in your program if your performance is continually decreasing over several weeks.
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com