Why You Should Lift and Lower Heavy Things

This is a guest post from Jonathan Bailor of The Smarter Science of Slim and JonathanBailor.com.

“Eccentric training has been shown to produce greater muscle hypertrophy than concentric training as a result of greater ability for maximal force generating capacity during eccentric contractions.” – J.P. Farthing, University of Saskatchewan

In a guest post a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d be back to talk more about research supporting the Primal principle of “lifting heavy things.” Let’s do it.

Women Won’t Look Like Men and Men Won’t Look Like Bulldogs

Before digging into the details about lifting or lowering anything, it is important to address a common fear that exercising with heavy things makes women look like men and men look like bulldogs. The best way to address this fear is to understand our biology. Everyone has a gene called GDF-8, and that controls a substance called myostatin, which controls the amount of muscle we have and how much muscles develop naturally. The base levels of myostatin and muscle in basically all women and most men make it impossible for them to naturally build bulky muscles. It does not matter how much resistance we use. The majority of us—especially women—do not have the genes to build bulky muscles via any form of exercise.

Myostatin (GDF-8), a member of the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-?) superfamily of secreted growth and differentiation factors, is a negative regulator of skeletal muscle growth. Loss of myostatin function is associated with an increase in muscle mass in mice, cows, and humans.

– M.N. Elkasrawy, Medical College of Georgia

I find it useful to think about muscle size like muscle speed. Few people are fast because few people have “fast genes.” No matter how much most people run, they will never get faster than their genes allow. However, if people do have the genetics for speed, they will naturally be faster than most people without ever training. Similarly, few people can become bulky because few people—particularly women—have “bulky genes.” No matter how much most people resistance train, they will never develop more muscle than their genes allow.

With our minds at ease let’s move on to…

Why Conventional Wisdom Fails, While Lifting Heavy Things Works

These findings indicate that type II muscle has a previously unappreciated role in regulating whole-body metabolism through its ability to alter the metabolic properties of remote tissues. These data also suggest that strength training, in addition to the widely prescribed therapy of endurance training, may be of particular benefit to overweight individuals.

– Y. Izumiya, Boston University

Why does conventional wisdom tell us to exercise via jogging, riding a bike, etc. for an hour per day? Because these activities involve our large leg muscles. The thinking is that the more muscle exercised, the better our results. At least conventional wisdom (CW) got that much right.

But here’s where CW comes up short: It is physiologically impossible for any amount of CW’s “cardio” to actually exercise as much muscle as possible. In fact, CW exercise approaches only activate one of the four types of muscle fibers we have. Doing more of it simply works that one type of muscle fiber over and over. And sadly, the singular type of muscle fiber it exercises is the least effective at triggering the hormonal reaction required to most efficiently burn body fat while preserving lean tissue…aka the hormonal reaction that enables us to look lean and fit rather than like a near-death bag of bones.

To dig a bit deeper into why CW fails, and lifting heavy things succeeds, we need to understand four principles of how our muscles function:

  1. We have different types of muscle fibers which do different things.
  2. The more force a fiber generates, the less endurance it has.
  3. We cannot work more forceful fibers without also working less forceful fibers.
  4. The more forceful a fiber, the more metabolic benefit we get from exercising it.

Different Types of Fibers, Different Levels of Force and Endurance

Like we have different muscles to do different things, we have different muscle fibers to do different things. This is critical to understand because just as we select specific exercises to work specific muscles, we can select specific exercises to work specific muscle fibers. For example, type 1 muscle fibers allow us to do low-force work for a long period of time. We work them when we do an hour of CW’s “cardio.” In contrast, our type 2b muscle fibers allow us to do a high-force work for a short period of time. We work them when we lift heavy things for a few seconds.

Well, that’s not exactly true…

Working More Forceful Fibers Works All Fibers and Is Uniquely Beneficial

First, high-intensity exercise training induces secretion of lipolytic [fat-burning] hormones including growth hormone and epinephrine, which may facilitate greater post-exercise energy expenditure and fat oxidation. Second, it has been reported that under equivalent levels of energy expenditure high-intensity exercise training favors a greater negative energy balance compared to low-intensity exercise training.”

B.A. Irving, University of Virginia

When we do high-force and short-duration exercise we don’t exclusively work our type 2b fibers. We work all of our less forceful fibers and our type 2b fibers. We try to lift something heavy, and our muscles first try to generate enough force with our weakest type 1 fibers. Those do not generate enough force, so our muscles also activate our more forceful type 2a fibers to help. Still not enough? Keep the type 1 and type 2a fibers going and add the stronger type 2x fibers. More? Don’t stop working the other three and bring in our most powerful type 2b fibers. Thanks to this cumulative activation of all of our muscle fibers (known as orderly recruitment in physiology circles), Primal exercise actually enables us to do what CW attempts to do: exercise the most muscle possible.

Even better, recent research reveals that exercising our most forceful type 2b muscle fibers is uniquely metabolically beneficial. For instance, Y. Izumiya of Boston University studied mice in a clinical setting and learned that the development of type 2b muscle fibers:

…lead to a reduction in accumulated white adipose tissue and improvements in metabolic parameters independent of physical activity or changes in the level of food intake. These effects occur independently of muscle oxidative capacity and are associated with increases in fatty acid metabolism in liver…The results from the current study indicate that modest increases in type 2b skeletal muscle mass can have a profound systemic effect on whole-body metabolism and adipose mass.

Dr. Izumiya continues extolling type 2b muscle fiber development with:

The metabolic improvement in this model cannot be entirely explained by a reduction in fat-pad mass, indicating that type II muscle counteracts the actions of excess adipose tissue on whole-body metabolism. These findings indicate that type II muscle has a previously unappreciated role in regulating whole-body metabolism through its ability to alter the metabolic properties of remote tissues.

He also states that these muscle fibers improved “insulin sensitivity and [caused] reductions in blood glucose, insulin, and leptin levels,” and that, “these effects occurred despite a reduction in physical activity.” Sign me up!

When it comes to long-term fat loss and lean tissue preservation, CW, common sense, and science all agree that the more muscle we exercise the better. The issue is how we actually do that. It’s literally impossible via low-force CW exercise. Our muscles just don’t work that way. We need to work with more force. We need to exercise Primally. We need to lift heavy things—and as we’ll see next—lower heavy things.

Lowering Heavy Things to Maximize Muscular Force

Every exercise has two parts: lifting the resistance and lowering the resistance. Lifting the resistance is called the concentric portion of the exercise. Concentric is when the muscle contracts. Lowering the resistance is called the eccentric portion of the exercise. Eccentric is when the muscle extends. Lifting weights—the concentric action—gets the most attention, but research shows that lowering weights—the eccentric action—can get us more results since safely and slowly lowering heavy things enables us to generate more force. M. Roig at the University of British Columbia found that “Eccentric training performed at high intensities was shown to be more effective in promoting increases in muscle.” Why? E.J. Higbie at University of Georgia tells us, “Greater maximum force can be developed during maximal eccentric muscle actions than during concentric.” And N.D. Reeves at Manchester Metropolitan University echoes with, “Muscles are capable of developing much higher forces when they contract eccentrically compared with when they contract concentrically.”

If you’d like to see how much stronger you are “on the way down,” hop on a seated row or chest press machine (or any exercise that moves on a horizontal plane—to eliminate the influence of gravity) and select a weight that you cannot lift with one arm but can lift easily with two arms. Lift it with two arms and cautiously relax one arm and observe as you are able to lower the resistance with one arm. You couldn’t lift the weight with one arm, but you could lower it with one arm because your muscles are literally stronger on the way down. You muscles can generate more force eccentrically—when lowering heavy things—than they can concentrically—when lifting things.

Over the past several decades, numerous studies have established that eccentric contractions can maximize the force exerted and the work performed by muscle…that they can attenuate the mechanical effects of impact forces; and that they enhance the [good] tissue damage associated with exercise.

– R.M. Enoka, Cleveland Clinic Foundation

The takeaway here is not to stop lifting heavy things. It’s to note that our muscles generate more force eccentrically, so lowering heavy things may enable us to activate even more of our uniquely helpful type 2b fibers. It’s another great exercise option for us. Here’s how to give eccentric exercise a whirl.

How to Lower Heavy Things

  1. Get warmed up by walking briskly or riding a bike for a few minutes.
  2. Pick a resistance you cannot lift with one arm or leg—depending on the exercise—but can easily lift with both arms or legs. Let’s say 50 pounds.
  3. Lift the resistance with both arms or legs. Each arm or leg is lifting about half the weight—25 pounds in this example.
  4. Lower the resistance with only one arm or leg for ten seconds. Each arm or leg slowly—count to 10—lowers all the weight—50 pounds in our example.
  5. Repeat until it is impossible to lower the resistance with only one arm or leg for ten seconds. If this takes more than six repetitions, gradually add resistance until it only takes six repetitions.
  6. Smile because previously you would have stopped doing this exercise when you could no longer lift 25 pounds per limb, and now you are stopping when you can no longer lower 50 pounds per limb.

Eccentric training resulted in greater hypertrophy than concentric training. We conclude that eccentric fast training is the most effective for muscle hypertrophy and strength gain.

– J.P. Farthing, University of Saskatchewan

With this technique we can lower heavy things in the comfort of our own home or at the gym. But before we go get eccentric, there are two important rules to keep in mind.

First, if we choose to exercise eccentrically on machines at our local gym, then we should only use machines that work both of our arms or both of our legs together. This is the only way to have less resistance on the way up and more on the way down. If we pick machines working our arms and legs independently, we will lift and lower the same amount of resistance. That defeats the whole purpose. Think about it this way. Say you grab a gallon of milk in each hand, lift them above your head, and then drop the one in your right hand to increase the resistance for your left hand. That does not work because lifting milk jugs works your arms independently. However, if you lifted one milk jug with each arm, but then lowered both jugs with only your left arm, you would lower more resistance with your left arm than you lifted with your left arm. Resistance training machines which work both of our arms or both of our legs together do the same thing.

Exercise with a maximal-eccentric component can induce increases in muscle…with shorter durations of work than other modes.

– M. Wernbom, Göteborg University

Second, exercise eccentrically only when little if any balance is needed. Just as you would not pick up a giant flat-screen TV with two hands and then let go with one, you should only exercise eccentrically when no balance is needed.

Putting these two rules together, we could:

  • Do a push-up with our knees on the floor (to reduce the resistance), and then lift our knees and lower ourselves (to increase the resistance). Our arms work together to lift a shared source of resistance (our body), and little if any balance is needed.
  • Stand up and then do a body weight squat down—while hanging on to something for balance—with one leg. Stand back up with two legs.
  • Stand on something to assist ourselves into getting to the top position of a pull-up, and then lower our full bodyweight down. Lift ourselves back up with the help of our legs.

You can imagine all sorts of ways to adapt these principles to any sort of workout. Just apply these three simple points:

  1. Lift resistance with both arms/legs. Lower resistance slowly with one arm/leg.
  2. Pick a shared source of resistance.
  3. Exercise eccentrically only when little if any balance is required.

As you start experimenting with lowering heavy things, keep in mind that…

More Muscle Worked Means More Recovery Time Needed

If we cut grass lower, we can mow our lawn less often. That is not some too-good-to-be-true gimmick. That is common sense. The more grass we cut off, the more time is needed to grow it back. Similarly, if we’re working more muscle fibers by exercising with more force, we can exercise less often. The more muscle fibers we exercise, the more time we need to recover.

How long your muscles take to recover is a great way to tell if you are exercising your type 2b muscle fibers. If you are able to lower heavy things on Monday and then lower the same heavy thing a day or two later, then your first workout didn’t work your type 2b fibers. If it did, those fibers will not be ready to go again one, two, three, four, or even five days later. Research reveals that type 2b muscle fibers need at least six days to recover.

Damage produced by eccentric exercise was more persistent than previously reported, indicating that more than 10 days may be necessary for recovery of muscle ultrastructure and carbohydrate reserves.

– K.P. O’Reilly, in the Journal of Applied Physiology

This is not to say that we should sit around in-between lowering heavy things. We should always heed the Primal principle to “move around a lot at a slow pace.” The point here is that if we’re exercising eccentrically effectively, we’ll be too sore to do much more than moving around at a slow pace for at least a few days afterward.

In Sum

My gym has two-pound weights. If you are using two-pound weights, how did you even open the door to the gym? What’s your dream? To pump up and open your mail?

– Dave Attell, Comic

CW’s “cardio” doesn’t work well because it requires little force and therefore works relatively little muscle. Lifting heavy things works because it requires a lot of force and therefore works a lot of muscle and our uniquely metabolically beneficial type 2b muscle fibers. Lowering heavy things can enable us to generate even more force and can be an excellent addition to a Primal lifestyle. Of course, do what works for you. My hope is that this research provides you with another option to assist with your long-term health and fitness goals.

Jonathan Bailor, The Smarter Science of Slim | facebook | twitter | youtube | podcast


  • [|de Meijer J] (1998-05-01). Hormone sensitive lipase: structure, function and regulation. demeijer.com. https://demeijer.com/biology/scriptie.pdf. Retrieved 02-09-2010. A thesis written at the Biochemical Physiology Research Group, Department of Experimental Zoology, University of Utrecht, under supervision of dr. W. J. A. van Marrewijk
  • Ades PA, Savage PD, Brochu M, Tischler MD, Lee NM, Poehlman ET. Resistance training increases total daily energy expenditure in disabled older women with coronary heart disease. J Appl Physiol. 2005 Apr;98(4):1280-5. PubMed PMID:15772059.
  • Ballor, D.L., Becque, M.D., & Katch, V.L. (1987). Metabolic responses during hydraulic resistance training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 19, 363-367.
  • Björntorp P. The regulation of adipose tissue distribution in humans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1996 Apr;20(4):291-302. Review. PubMed PMID: 8680455.
  • Blackburn GL, Wilson GT, Kanders BS, Stein LJ, Lavin PT, Adler J, Brownell KD. Weight cycling: The experience of human dieters. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989 May;49(5 Suppl):1105-9. PubMed PMID: 2718940.
  • Calles-Escandón J, Arciero PJ, Gardner AW, Bauman C, Poehlman ET. Basal fat oxidation decreases with aging in women. J Appl Physiol. 1995 Jan;78(1):266-71. PubMed PMID: 7713822
  • Candow DG, Chilibeck PD, Abeysekara S, Zello GA. Short-term Heavy Resistance Training Eliminates Age-Related Deficits in Muscle Mass and Strength in Healthy
  • Clarkson PM, Nosaka K, Braun B. Muscle function after exercise-induced muscle damage and rapid adaptation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1992 May;24(5):512-20. Review. PubMed PMID: 1569847.
  • Cleak MJ, Eston RG. Muscle soreness, swelling, stiffness and strength loss after intense eccentric exercise. Br J Sports Med. 1992 Dec;26(4):267-72. PubMed PMID: 1490222; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1479005.
  • Colliander EB, Tesch PA. Effects of eccentric and concentric muscle actions in resistance training. Acta Physiol Scand. 1990 Sep;140(1):31-9. PubMed PMID:2275403.
  • Cope TC, Sokoloff AJ. Orderly recruitment among motoneurons supplying different muscles. J Physiol Paris. 1999 Jan-Apr;93(1-2):81-5. Review. PubMed PMID: 10084711.
  • Costanzo, Linda S.. Physiology (Saunders Text and Review Series). 2nd ed. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 2002. Print.
  • Dudley GA, Tesch PA, Miller BJ, Buchanan P. Importance of eccentric actions in performance adaptations to resistance training. Aviat Space Environ Med. 1991 Jun;62(6):543-50. PubMed PMID: 1859341.
  • Duncan PW, Chandler JM, Cavanaugh DK, Johnson KR, Buehler AG. Mode and speed specificity of eccentric and concentric exercise training. J Orthop Sports Phys ther. 1989;11(2):70-5. PubMed PMID: 18796927.
  • Elkasrawy MN, Hamrick MW. Myostatin (GDF-8) as a key factor linking muscle mass and bone structure. J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. 2010 Mar;10(1):56-63. Review. PubMed PMID: 20190380.
  • Enoka RM. Eccentric contractions require unique activation strategies by the nervous system. J Appl Physiol. 1996 Dec;81(6):2339-46. Review. PubMed PMID: 9018476
  • Farthing JP, Chilibeck PD. The effects of eccentric and concentric training at different velocities on muscle hypertrophy. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 Aug;89(6):578-86. Epub 2003 May 17. PubMed PMID: 12756571.
  • Fridén J; Sjöström M; Ekblom B. Myofibrillar damage following intense eccentric exercise in man. Int J Sports Med. 1983; 4(3):170-6 (ISSN: 0172-4622)
  • Fry AC. The Role of Training Intensity in Resistance training Overtraining and Overreaching. In: Kreider RB. Fry AC, O’Toole ML, editors. Overtraining in sport. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 1998: 107-27.
  • Gilliat-Wimberly M, Manore MM, Woolf K, Swan PD, Carroll SS. Effects of habitual physical activity on the resting metabolic rates and body compositions of women aged 35 to 50 years. J Am Diet Assoc. 2001 Oct;101(10):1181-8. PubMed PMID: 11678489.
  • Golden CL, Dudley GA. Strength after bouts of eccentric or concentric actions. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1992 Aug;24(8):926-33. PubMed PMID: 1406179.
  • Golden CL, Graves JE, Buchanan P, Dudly G. Eccentric and Concentric Strength After Repeated Bouts of Intense Exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1991; 23 (Suppl): 655A.
  • Goto K, Ishii N, Kizuka T, Takamatsu K. The impact of metabolic stress on hormonal responses and muscular adaptations. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005 Jun;37(6):955-63. PubMed PMID: 15947720.
  • Gotshalk, L.A., et.al. (1996). Pituitary-gonadal hormonal responses of multi-set vs. single -set resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 10(4):286.
  • Harman SM, Metter EJ, Tobin JD, Pearson J, Blackman MR; Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Longitudinal effects of aging on serum total and free testosterone levels in healthy men. Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Feb;86(2):724-31. PubMed PMID: 11158037.
  • Harrison BC, Leinwand LA. Fighting fat with muscle: bulking up to slim down. Cell Metab. 2008 Feb;7(2):97-8. Review. PubMed PMID: 18249167.
  • Hather BM, Tesch PA, Buchanan P, Dudley GA. Influence of eccentric actions on skeletal muscle adaptations to resistance training. Acta Physiol Scand. 1991 Oct;143(2):177-85. PubMed PMID: 1835816.
  • Henneman E, Olson Cb. Relations Between Structure And Function In the Design of Skeletal Muscles. J Neurophysiol. 1965 May;28:581-98. Pubmed Pmid: 14328455.
  • Henneman E, Somjen G, Carpenter DO. Excitability and inhibitability of motoneurons of different sizes. J Neurophysiol. 1965 May;28(3):599-620. PubMed PMID: 5835487.
  • Henneman E, Somjen G, Carpenter Do. Functional Significance of Cell Size In Spinal Motoneurons. J Neurophysiol. 1965 May;28:560-80. Pubmed Pmid: 14328454.
  • Higbie EJ, Cureton KJ, Warren GL 3rd, Prior BM. Effects of concentric and eccentric training on muscle strength, cross-sectional area, and neural activation. J Appl Physiol. 1996 Nov;81(5):2173-81. PubMed PMID: 8941543.
  • Hortobágyi T, Barrier J, Beard D, Braspennincx J, Koens P, Devita P, Dempsey L, Lambert J. Greater initial adaptations to submaximal muscle lengthening than maximal shortening. J Appl Physiol. 1996 Oct;81(4):1677-82. PubMed PMID: 8904586.
  • Hortobágyi T, Dempsey L, Fraser D, Zheng D, Hamilton G, Lambert J, Dohm L. Changes in muscle strength, muscle fibre size and myofibrillar gene expression after immobilization and retraining in humans. J Physiol. 2000 Apr 1;524 Pt 1:293-304. PubMed PMID: 10747199; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2269843.
  • Hunter GR, Wetzstein CJ, Fields DA, Brown A, Bamman MM. Resistance training increases total energy expenditure and free-living physical activity in older adults. J Appl Physiol. 2000 Sep;89(3):977-84. PubMed PMID: 10956341.
  • Irving BA, Davis CK, Brock DW, Weltman JY, Swift D, Barrett EJ, Gaesser GA, Weltman A. Effect of exercise training intensity on abdominal visceral fat and body composition. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Nov;40(11):1863-72. PubMed PMID:18845966; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2730190
  • Ivy JL, Zderic TW, Fogt DL. Prevention and treatment of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 1999;27:1-35. Review. PubMed PMID: 10791012.
  • Izumiya Y, Hopkins T, Morris C, Sato K, Zeng L, Viereck J, Hamilton JA, Ouchi N, LeBrasseur NK, Walsh K. Fast/Glycolytic muscle fiber growth reduces fat mass and improves metabolic parameters in obese mice. Cell Metab. 2008 Feb;7(2):159-72. PubMed PMID: 18249175.
  • Katz B. The relation between force and speed in muscular contraction. J Physiol. 1939 Jun 14;96(1):45-64. PubMed PMID: 16995114; PubMed Central PMCID:PMC1393840.
  • Keogh, J. W. L., G. J. Wilson, And R. P. Weatherby. A Crosssectional Comparison of Different Resistance Training Techniques In the Bench Press. J. Strength Cond. Res. 13:247–258, 1999.
  • Komi PV, Buskirk ER. Effect of eccentric and concentric muscle conditioning on tension and electrical activity of human muscle. Ergonomics. 1972 Jul;15(4):417-34. PubMed PMID: 4634421.
  • Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. Fundamentals of resistance training: progression and exercise prescription. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004 Apr;36(4):674-88. Review. PubMed PMID: 15064596.
  • Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance training and training. Sports Med. 2005;35(4):339-61. Review. PubMed PMID:15831061.
  • Kraemer WJ. Endocrine responses to resistance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1988 Oct;20(5 Suppl):S152-7. Review. PubMed PMID: 3057315.
  • Kraemer,W.J. & Ratamess, N.A. (2004). Fundamentals of resistance training: progression and exercise prescription. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 36, 674-688.
  • Kraemer,W.J. & Ratamess, N.A. (2005). Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance training and training. Sports Medicine 35, 339-361.
  • Lee SJ. Regulation of muscle mass by myostatin. Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 2004;20:61-86. Review. PubMed PMID: 15473835.
  • Leibel RL, Rosenbaum M, Hirsch J. Changes in energy expenditure resulting from altered body weight. N Engl J Med. 1995 Mar 9;332(10):621-8. Erratum in: N Engl J Med 1995 Aug 10;333(6):399. PubMed PMID: 7632212.
  • Little, John, and Doug Mcguff. Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week. 1 ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.
  • Mendell LM. The size principle: a rule describing the recruitment of motoneurons. J Neurophysiol. 2005 Jun;93(6):3024-6. PubMed PMID: 15914463.
  • Milner-Brown HS, Stein RB, Yemm R. The orderly recruitment of human motor units during voluntary isometric contractions. J Physiol. 1973 Apr;230(2):359-70. PubMed PMID: 4350770; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1350367.
  • Nardone A, Romanò C, Schieppati M. Selective recruitment of high-threshold human motor units during voluntary isotonic lengthening of active muscles. J Physiol. 1989 Feb;409:451-71. PubMed PMID: 2585297; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1190454.
  • Newham DJ, McPhail G, Mills KR, Edwards RH. Ultrastructural changes after concentric and eccentric contractions of human muscle. J Neurol Sci. 1983 Sep;61(1):109-22. PubMed PMID: 6631446.
  • Obesity and leanness. Basic aspects. Stock, M., Rothwell, N., Author Affiliation: Dep. Physiology, St. George’s Hospital Medical School, London Univ., London, UK.
  • O’Reilly KP, Warhol MJ, Fielding RA, Frontera WR, Meredith CN, Evans WJ. Eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage impairs muscle glycogen repletion. J Appl Physiol. 1987 Jul;63(1):252-6. PubMed PMID: 3624128.
  • Parr JJ, Yarrow JF, Garbo CM, Borsa PA. Symptomatic and functional responses to concentric-eccentric isokinetic versus eccentric-only isotonic exercise. J Athl Train. 2009 Sep-Oct;44(5):462-8. PubMed PMID: 19771283; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2742454.
  • Piers LS, Soares MJ, McCormack LM, O’Dea K. Is there evidence for an age-related reduction in metabolic rate? J Appl Physiol. 1998 Dec;85(6):2196-204. PubMed PMID: 9843543.
  • Poehlman ET, Mepoundy C. Resistance training and energy balance. Int J Sport Nutr. 1998 Jun;8(2):143-59. Review. PubMed PMID: 9637193.
  • Pritzlaff CJ, Wideman L, Blumer J, Jensen M, Abbott RD, Gaesser GA, Veldhuis JD, Weltman A. Catecholamine release, growth hormone secretion, and energy expenditure during exercise vs. recovery in men. J Appl Physiol. 2000 Sep;89(3):937-46. PubMed PMID: 10956336.
  • Pritzlaff CJ, Wideman L, Weltman JY, Abbott RD, Gutgesell ME, Hartman ML, Veldhuis JD, Weltman A. Impact of acute exercise intensity on pulsatile growth hormone release in men. J Appl Physiol. 1999 Aug;87(2):498-504. PubMed PMID: 10444604
  • Pruves, Dale. Neuroscience, Fourth Edition. Fourth Edition ed. Sunderland: Sinauer Associates, Inc., 2007. Print.
  • Rasmussen BB, Wolfe RR. Regulation of fatty acid oxidation in skeletal muscle. Annu Rev Nutr. 1999;19:463-84. Review. PubMed PMID: 10448533.
  • Reeves ND, Maganaris CN, Longo S, Narici MV. Differential adaptations to eccentric versus conventional resistance training in older humans. Exp Physiol. 2009 Jul;94(7):825-33. Epub 2009 Apr 24. PubMed PMID: 19395657.
  • Roig M, O’Brien K, Kirk G, Murray R, McKinnon P, Shadgan B, Reid WD. The effects of eccentric versus concentric resistance training on muscle strength and mass in healthy adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2009
  • Saladin, Kenneth. Anatomy and Physiology: The Unity of Form and Function. 5 ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Science/Engineering/Math, 2009. Print.
  • Schutz Y, Jequier E. Resting Energy Expenditure, thermic Effect of Food, and Total Energy Expenditure In: Bray GA, Couchard d, James WP, eds. Handbook of Obesity. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1997: 443-456.
  • Seger, JY, Arvidson B, and Thorstensson A. Specific effects of eccentric and concentric training on muscle strength and morphology in humans. Eur J Appl Physiol 79: 49-57, 1998.
  • Simoneau JA. Kelly D. Skeletal Muscle and Obesity In: Bray GA, Couchard d, James WP, eds. Handbook of Obesity. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1997: 539-553.
  • Snyder PJ. Decreasing testosterone with increasing age: more factors, more questions. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jul;93(7):2477-8. PubMed PMID: 18617703.
  • Staley, Charles. Muscle Logic : Escalating Density Training. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Books, 2005. Print. Poehlman ET, Mepoundy C. Resistance training and energy balance. Int J Sport Nutr. 1998 Jun;8(2):143-59. Review. PubMed PMID: 9637193.
  • Stárka L, Pospísilová H, Hill M. Free testosterone and free dihydrotestosterone throughout the life span of men. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2009 Aug;116(1-2):118-20. Epub 2009 May 22. PubMed PMID: 19465126.
  • Tomberlin JP, Basford JR, Schwen EE, Orte PA, Scott SC, Laughman RK, Ilstrup DM. Comparative study of isokinetic eccentric and concentric quadriceps training. J Orthop Sports Phys ther. 1991;14(1):31-6. PubMed PMID: 18796832.
  • van Pelt RE, Dinneno FA, Seals DR, Jones PP. Age-related decline in RMR in physically active men: relation to exercise volume and energy intake. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Sep;281(3):E633-9. PubMed PMID: 11500320.
  • van Pelt RE, Jones PP, Davy KP, Desouza CA, Tanaka H, Davy BM, Seals DR. Regular exercise and the age-related decline in resting metabolic rate in women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1997 Oct;82(10):3208-12. PubMed PMID: 9329340.
  • Vikne H, Refsnes PE, Ekmark M, Medbø JI, Gundersen V, Gundersen K. Muscular performance after concentric and eccentric exercise in trained men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Oct;38(10):1770-81. PubMed PMID: 17019299.
  • Watkins, P.H (2010) Augmented Eccentric Loading: Theoretical and Practical Applications for the Strength and Conditioning Professional. Professional Strength and Conditioning, UKSCA Issue 17, pp4-12
  • Weigle DS, Sande KJ, Iverius PH, Monsen ER, Brunzell JD. Weight loss leads to a marked decrease in nonresting energy expenditure in ambulatory human subjects. Metabolism. 1988 Oct;37(10):930-6. PubMed PMID: 3173112.
  • Wernbom M, Augustsson J, Thomeé R. The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross-sectional area in humans. Sports Med. 2007;37(3):225-64. Review. PubMed PMID: 17326698.
  • Wilcox G. Insulin and insulin resistance. Clin Biochem Rev. 2005 May;26(2):19-39. PubMed PMID: 16278749; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1204764.
  • Yeaman SJ. Hormone-sensitive lipase–new roles for an old enzyme. Biochem J. 2004 Apr 1;379(Pt 1):11-22. Review. PubMed PMID: 14725507; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1224062.
TAGS:  guest post

About the Author

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

142 thoughts on “Why You Should Lift and Lower Heavy Things”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    1. I used to call it working out with 16oz curls in descending weights. Heh.

    2. Wouldn’t you be using more force to lift it than putting it down? Assuming you actually drank the beer 😛

    1. Wait, so you mean my bicep-and-ab-workout-day is malarkey? SAY IT AIN’T SO!!! =P

    2. That is because the muscle mags would assume anyone reading that actually lifts weights would already understand this elementary information. Therefore, to keep their loyal readers they choose not to write about the most boring basic muscle biology. As I was reading this I couldn’t help knowing this information intuitively when I was exercising at the local YMCA when I was only in 4th grade.

      1. Um–doubtful. If this “boring” information is so intuitive, why does conventional wisdom get it so wrong? Why do I see so many fat people at the gym struggling on the eliptical, because that’s what their doctor AND trainer have instructed them to do in order to “lose weight.” Hell, they even do this nonsense on “The Biggest Loser?”

        You get it, Bornagain–good for you. Most people don’t. Don’t be patronizing.

  1. That was quite a long list of sources. Great post! I guess this means I shouldn’t be dropping my deadlifts anymore 🙁

    1. As a general rule, you shouldn’t be dropping anything when you lift. If you can’t control the weight on the way up and on the way down, you’re lifting too much weight and are risking injury.

      On the upside, insisting on controlling the weight on the way up and on the way down means a higher-quality workout. So even if you have to reduce weight or reps, you’re actually exercising *more* while reducing your injury risk. So win/win. 🙂

      1. So you’re saying when I clean and jerk 225 I should then gracefully lower it back to my shoulders, waist, and finally the ground? Not a chance.

        1. Keep in mind that this is an extreme exercise and you are lifting the weight in a completely different way. Clean and jerk consists of two sudden motions that rely partially on the momentum of the weights to get them into the final position to press over your head. You’re using a lot of different muscles in your body to get the weight moving. You aren’t using a slow gradual motion to lift the weight, nor would you be able to. So it’s not really the expectation that you should just be able to do a slow-motion reverse of your actions to get the weight back on the ground.

      2. Dude, no. Reverse-deadlifting is a terrible idea, unless you really want to throw out your back.

        1. Controlling the weight during descent on deadlift is the right way to do it.

          If you can’t control the weight, then more core work is necessary. If you’re worried about your back, then you’re doing it wrong.

          However, Olympic lifts are exempt from this rule.

      3. This is wrong.

        This is the kind of mentality that gets people to sign up at Planet Fitness where members are afraid of heavy weight.

        Olympic style weight lifting would be impossible if they followed your ‘put it down gently’ rule.

        1. Haha, Totally agree with the Planet Fitness thing… I go there because I got a connection to get in free but every time I assume people are mad at me if I flex in a mirror or make any sounds whatsoever while lifting. It’s like its offensive to know what your doing or something!?

  2. Interesting post. I have two questions (and one for Mark):

    1.) Regarding gene expression. One of the primary points of PB is that your genes will reprogram expression to external stimuli. Therefore would not muscle bulking be the result of weight lifting regardless of not having a genetic predisposition to bulking?

    2.) I seem to recall Dr. Noakes reporting in the Lore of Running that Type II fibers will be recruited in cardio training after Type I fibers become exhausted and thereby trained to be type I fibers. So it seems that cardio can indeed exercise all of your muscles?

    3.) Mark would you agree with these statements “No matter how much most people run, they will never get faster than their genes allow. However, if people do have the genetics for speed, they will naturally be faster than most people without ever training.”
    This seems to fly in the face of your cavalier claim that you could train someone not just to finish a marathon but to win it.

    I’m not a hater, I love PB!

    1. Regarding question 3, I understood that statement as one cannot sprint faster than one’s genes will allow. The basis for this thought being a predetermined percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

    2. 1. Yes and no. PB won’t rewrite your DNA – we are all limited by what our genes code for. The catch is that most of us (99%) aren’t anywhere *near* our full genetic potential. What PB *can* do is change how your genes express themselves.

      This is probably oversimplifying, but think of your genes as a protein factory – different genes code for different proteins which do different things. Your lifestyle controls which parts of the ‘factory’ are active. No matter how much exercise I do, I can’t change what my DNA codes for – my ‘factory’ is already built. But I *can* change how that factory runs by encouraging the muscle-building, insulin-sensitive genes to activate.

      I probably don’t have the genetic makeup to bulk up like an Olympic weightlifter, but I can do a hell of a lot better than the 130lb stick boy I was a few years ago.

      2. Without having read Dr. Noakes, I can’t really comment here. I do know that there are different types of cardio. Badly designed cardio workouts do more harm than good, which is why we can come off anti-cardio here. Cardio *does* have a purpose – we just support short, intense sprints and general low-level motion over the injurious ‘chronic cardio’ supported elsewhere.

      3. This kinda ties in with question 1. People have different genetic potential. PB helps you reach your maximum potential. If you have decent genetics, you might be naturally fast – but nowhere near as fast as you’ll be with training. Even if you *aren’t* naturally fast, you’d be amazed how fast you can be with training. Talented or not, most people never come close to their maximum potential – that’s what PB seeks to unlock.

    3. Re: 2.) I have also heard/read that you can change the ratio of your muscle fibers through excessive training of only one type fiber. Don’t recall how much is ‘excessive’ or the extent of change. It appears that such a shift could only go type 2 -> type 1. At any rate, I doubt such a change is desirable.

      Re: 3.) In the 12/6/2011 post, How to Train for a Marathon, Mark said “Truth is, if I put my mind to it, and you had elite level potential, I could most likely train some of you to win the thing outright”.

      1. What they both said. I can add a few specifics, though.

        1. You will “bulk” in the sense that you will gain muscle mass, and may look “bulkier”, but you cannot become in the top percentages of bodybuilding/sports without a genetic predisposition towards that activity. Basically, the architecture of your skeletal system (bones) limits the amount of muscle fibers that can be attached to them. Genetic predisposition also controls how FAST you gain muscle, as well as your maximal genetic potential (slow vs hard gainer, even with proper heavy lifting). Lastly, and most importantly for performance, how efficient and speedy your nervous system is in firing those muscles (in the quarter of a second you have to start picking up a huge weight) is the most important genetic adaptation, though of course it can be improved some by epigenetic (lifestyle) changes. https://www.leangains.com/2010/12/maximum-muscular-potential.html

        2. For cardio to activate type 2 muscle fibers, the exercise must be intense enough to require type 1 and type 2 muscles at once (orderly recruitment). I’m not sure if a super long cardio workout would exhaust all of your type 1 muscles, and then type 2 muscles would be used for the rest of the run, but as I say that it already sounds ridiculous to me (maybe that’s the point where you fall down with cramps and soreness). Either way, it’s recommended that you do high intensity interval training as your cardio, and save the long walks/jogs for play. You can, after all, change your fiber composition with chronic cardio to become more type 1, but as you can see from the pictures here, you REALLY don’t want to (the text is heavy, but the first pic and the graph are gold).

        3. Same answer as 1, with the added info of the graph at suppversity; note sprinters having an 80:20 type 2:1 fiber composition. If you were “born that way”, as Lady Gaga would say, you wouldn’t have to work very hard to destroy your less fortunate peers in a sprint. Through hard work, some people might be able to change their average 50/50 fiber comp to be 80/20, but some might only reach 60/40 and hit a genetic wall (not to mention the brain efficiency and activation thing I mentioned earlier, which is very genetics-dominated).

        Make sense? Turned out pretty long, but I had fun looking that all up 😉

  3. I can’t stand still today some of newly coming literature about health and fitness still recommend 30 minute of cardiovascular exercise on most days for optimal health.

    Do some of these authors not keep up with new stuff or they just want to write a book to file it to their resume.

    Just read the book the Healthiest You. The same stuff all over again – eat low fat diet, stay away from saturated fat, do 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every day and on and on and on. Nothing new. All old and outdated.

    Yes, the new stuff like lifting heavy things, increasing the fats in the diet and lovering carbohydrate intake does work. Go lift some heavy stuff, be careful with it while lovering it slowly like Mark says and get the huge health benefits out of it!

    1. I’m thinking I’m going to run into the same scenario at a fitness convention I want to attend the day before my first 5k. There’s also a workshop on “proper” nutrition before/during/after a race. I’m pretty certain this will be full of CW, so I don’t think I’ll attend.

  4. Rest assured, if you exercise this way, you will be so sore you will not believe it. But you will also get results like you won’t believe as well. The muscle cells tear more this way, under force while expanding. Tears ’em right up. Then your body builds them up stronger than ever. Just hurts a little (lot), haha. Be a big boy and become a man. Negatives are the future! But don’t overdo it. Doing it right will make you sore enough. If I were to give advice (which I am not) I would say give the Advil a break and try some Traumeel. HA!

    1. Traumeel is excellent stuff. Also, Arniflora makes an Arnica Gel which is what we’ve been using lately. Helps even more if you can sweet-talk someone into rubbing it in for you (:0)

    2. “Be a big boy and become a man”

      It sounds like you’re channeling Hans and Franz from SNL! Ha ha (as for myself, I want to be a big girl and become a kick ass chick).

      1. You will kick ass better as long as you avoid cardio. If you are still doing cardio you need to “Vake up und smell ze muscle!” Zen you can get to ass kicking!”

    3. Supplementing with BCAA (pre- and post- workout) can reduce the pain (I won’t detail the mechanisms here; just Google it) of a hard workout, as can L-Glutamine. If you enjoy DOMS on a mental level, then you don’t need to supplement. But if you want maximum gain with minimum pain, I recommend investigating these two.

  5. I’ll link this the next time I can’t convince someone not to drop their deadlift at the top.

    1. Just tell them there’s a special place in hell for people who drop their deadlifts. I hate that with a passion.

    2. On a related note, dropping weights is a sign that they are lifting too much and risking injury. Controlling the weight on the way down is a better workout *and* is safer. That might help convince them!

      1. Umm, people can lower more than they can pull. So how is dropping the weight a sign that it is too heavy?

        Eccentrics have their uses, but there is also a special place in hell for people who drop everything at the call of their guru.

        1. They may have the technique down on how to use momentum to get that much weight up, but they cannot *control* what they have lifted, thus it is too heavy for them to safely lift.

        2. Why does one have to *control* what they lift? There is no need for me to control the weight of a deadlift. I lift it correctly and then set it down. I don’t need to wave it around like a wizard’s wand. It is not too heavy for me to lift, otherwise I wouldn’t of lifted it, however it is too heavy for me do unnecessary things with.

  6. the gym I use has a set of machines by a company called Exerbotics. It’s computerized that adjusts the resistance (up or down)based upon how hard you push. The speed of the rep is set by the machine so that the harder you push the greater the resistance the equipment pushed back against your effort. In the concentric portion of, say, the bench press your goal is to try and stop the movement. The benefit of this equipment is that each and every rep (of an 8 rep set) can be a maximum effort if you put out hard enough. The downside of this equipment is the computer electronics can be knockout by a lightning strike. Here’s the company’s website, however: https://www.exerbotics.com/

    I’m not affiliated with them but luv the equipment for exactly the points Mark makes in this blog post

  7. Thanks for the comprehensive reference list – fandabby!

    I’ve obviously been working out far too lightly. Will attempt some reverse work from now on.

  8. Since “strong is the new skinny” and this information can help my strength gains considerably through a new understanding of how my body works I owe you a debt of thanks.

    Too many times the scientific stuff goes way over my head. Thank you for breaking it down so I could grasp what you were saying and further giving examples of how to apply it in my home. Especially the recovery time information. I’ll no longer be hearing any negative self-talk from the monkey in my mind if I am too sore to do negative pull-ups more than a couple of times a week. Good news, indeed 🙂

    1. Thought I was the only one with a monkey in my mind… 🙂 LOVE that mental image. Thank you!

  9. This article is awesome. I used to do “negatives” (i.e. having someone help you lift heavy weight and then you slowly let it down) on lifts like bench press and I swore that it helped improve my strength by leaps and bounds. It’s great to see that I’m not crazy.

  10. This sounds promising, but as someone who doesn’t believe in machine exercises, this might be hard to put into practice. How would you do this with a squat, for instance? You’d have to do it balanced, which would mean lowering a heavy wait to the squat position, racking it, then unloading the weight, putting the bar back into the loading position, then putting back on the weights, the lowering again. And no, I’m not going to do a leg press one legged.

    1. I think at the end he suggested a bodyweight pistol squat. Two legs up, one leg down. If that is too easy for you, then I am impressed and a weight vest would be the answer.

  11. So are free weights ruled out for eccentric exercise due to lack of balancing? Is something like a Bowflex better for a home gym scenario?

    I prefer exercising at home and just have a set of dumb bells right now. What’s the best way to go here?

    1. I was wondering the same thing. For squats you could easily do two legs up, one leg down and I also liked the push up idea of raising and lowering your knees. But what about exercises like rows when you have a dumb bell in each hand? I don’t like going to a gym anymore and prefer to workout at home or outside using body weight exercises with dumb bells…perhaps a workout post on eccentric lifting at home?

    2. Try swinging the weight to full contraction, then gently lowering it. That uses the momentum of the weight as an assist, and then you’re on your own in the eccentric phase. This is what happens in a kettlebell swing, for example.

      You can also lift with both hands and lower with one, alternating sides each lift.

  12. These articles to “hack” exercise are ridiculous. Mark, please get Brooks Kubik to do a guest post and enough of this ‘scientific’ stuff!

    1. What works for some may not work for all. Just because it’s “ridiculous” for you to consider doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to some out there. Some of us like the in-depth analyses contained in Mark’s articles explaining the biological process and thought behind the physical activity (that’s all that “scientific stuff.”)

      Don’t hate. (Get) educate(d).

  13. So tech question: We should only emphasize the eccentric portion if it’s a two-limbed lift? What if we are doing something like dumbbell bench press, and we go really slowly on the eccentric portion? Would this still not be effective because we should be doing more weight since we have to actually press it up as well? I like the idea, maybe I should re-read.

    1. Maybe work with a partner so he/she can help you lift the “too heavy” weight and spot you on the lowering?

  14. Wow Mark is actually suggesting setting foot inside of a gym. What an amazing concept. This goes against most every other principal mark has taught to do with exercise. Let’s not forgot how Mark originally got all these muscles you see on him, cardio and weightlifting, at extensive amounts of it. I am disgusted at this falsehood Mark implys that by simply eating primal, not wearing shoes and doing pullups after you have frolicked down the beach with 5 gallon water jugs will get you looking like him. Look at all the transformations he posts. They all start out fat, then they look smaller and out of shape because they have eaten primal or they look smaller and amazing because they used weight training in one form or another. Yes guys you have to push yourself with weights to get the look you want.

    1. Uhh… at what point, exactly, does Mark ever claim that you can get to look like him by just eating primally and wearing Vibrams? Lifting Heavy Things and Sprinting are 2 of the 10 primal laws. Anyone who just “eats primal and doesn’t wear shoes” and then gets mad that they don’t look like a greek god just is not paying attention.

    2. In what deserted wasteland do you live that you can’t find more heavy things outside to lift than you can inside. Mark got muscled up by cardio? Have you seen the pictures of him when he was in that mode? Less muscle than most couch potatoes.

    3. Somebody’s a negative nancy today. I think your points have already been eviscerated though, so I won’t waste my time going through them ^-^

    4. Uh. Have you read the book? Not sure we are talking about the same Mark…

  15. Excellent article and comprehensive list of resources!

    I would love to see more studies done about the potential muscle damage that can be caused by eccentric movements (especially improperly performed). In my own experience, I (stupidly) got rhabdo from doing a high number of band-assisted pull-ups in a short amount of time (thank you, CrossFit…). I’m suspecting the fast negatives, downward (eccentric) movement was a culprit of the rapid breakdown of my muscle tissue. My doctors were baffled by my suspicions and didn’t seem to agree. Are there any sources available that could shed some light on this?

    1. I just found some references by Dr. Will Wright on the crossfit web site journal under medical/injuries. It would appear they’re aware of rhabdo occurrences in their affiliates. I also remember reading somewhere about rhabdo happening as a result of intense massage sessions – scary.

      1. I’m not looking for occurrences of rhabdo at CF affiliates, but the increased potential for eccentric movements to cause rhabdo due to more muscle fiber use, etc. Any ideas?

    2. https://www.eatmoveimprove.com/2010/09/looking-at-rhabdomyolysis/

      “Damage can occur during concentric and isometric exercise; however, most of the damage induced to the muscles occurs during eccentric exercise or negatives. Eccentric exercise is the strongest form of exercise allowing the muscles to handle upwards of 120-125% of the load that can be lifted concentrically. As the muscle lengthens under eccentric load, the sarcomeres (individual contraction units of the muscle) are unable to support the tension and thus “pop” and distend uncontrollably which is the cause the disruption of the sarcomere plasma membrane. Too much damage results in a loss of structural integrity of the sarcoplasmic reticulum which lets metabolites and intramuscular proteins spill out of the muscle cells.”

  16. “The point here is that if we’re exercising eccentrically effectively, we’ll be too sore to do much more than moving around at a slow pace for at least a few days afterward.”

    I understand the logic of short, intense, brief exercise. But, being sore for a few days afterwards seems to suggest that the reward isn’t worth the effort. Imagine a boxer or some other athlete not be able to practice their sport at a high intensity because they were sore from weight training. Who wants to spend the majority of ones time in pain? There are more easier ways to reap the same results, in my opinion. Not hating, just saying.

    1. I was also thinking about this. I played volleyball in college and could not imagine being able to practice if I was so sore I couldn’t or wouldn’t want to lift for 6 days. My guess is that this soreness period is for those who are not highly trained, and perhaps people who are more trained are able to lift heavy and recover quicker?

      1. I think it’s actually the other way around. If you are heavily trained, you will likely have a more intense workout with proper form that, I shudder to suggest, isolates the proper muscle groups (even if this “group” is half your body, it’s cheating if you incorporate the other half with sloppy form). Unless you are highly trained and thus really committed to intense workouts, or have a personal trainer to push you, it is unlikely that your workouts are intense enough to merit a 6 day recovery period. That’s why beginners to weights should lift 3 days a week (all muscle groups), then in a few months, when workouts make you too sore to train properly in this fashion, you change to a split to increase recovery time of the muscle groups.

  17. Wow great list of sources and such a thorough article!! I have been following a schedule (much like the one you recommend) 2 days of HIIT, 2 days of Pilates, 1 day sprinting, 1 day leisure run (optional), and an optional off or yoga day. I’m constantly being asked what I do to get a fab body after having two kids. Sigh…. it so hard to look great sometimes. Especially when you take the time to tell people and they dont apply any of that knowledge to their own lives. You know what that’s like right Mark?

  18. I do eccentric using Exerbotics equipment and don’t get sore. About once per week is enough frequency

  19. I’m fortunate enough to have the best gym near me that has XForce equipment (only facility in the country I believe) which puts this science into a machine where you don’t need a spotter or anything else to get 40% greater resistance on the negative phase of the exercise. It has made the greatest inroads to my strenth and size in a very short time and I only do it once a week for 30 minutes.

    1. I looked at the XForce website but couldn’t make much out from the photos. Is this equipment motorized? If not that would eliminate any lightning surges affecting them. I personally like Exerbotics since it adjusts to the person’s own strength curve. The downside is the Exerbotic equipment I use is currently down do to lightning getting into the computer.


      1. Scott? Suggest a surge suppressor to the gym? Just like we use on a computer or TV? (Or even better, a “UPS” — an uninterruptable power supply — which ‘cleans the line’; it smooths out the electricity flow to touchy gear…

        1. they actually had one but it didn’t help. The lightning blew out the power company’s transformer too

  20. This explains a lot! I always wondered why it was so much harder to go up on a pull-up, going down is easy!

    Since this is about primal- what is the primal justification for having more strength in eccentric phase of muscle contraction?

    1. This comment embodies a bit that I didn’t understand about this article. In my mind I think “Of course it’s easier to go down from a pull up, it’s just down. That’s where gravity takes you whether you’re holding on to a bar or not.” But then again, I understand the controlled downward motion and get why it seems to be so beneficial (likely because it is often neglected.)

      I’ve never used a rowing machine, or really any other machine that operates on a horizontal plane, so I’m not really sure I understand the finer details of these machines, but I do wonder if someone could offer me an explanation of the thought that “our muscles are stronger on the way down.” In my mind I see that it’s way easer to drop my hands to my sides for an hour than to hold them out in front of me for an hour. I don’t think that means they’re stronger when they’re at my sides. More applicably: isn’t the lowering motion the same force as the raising motion for things like curls or squats? So long as you don’t drop them, lowering them should be the same muscle activity, just less of it with (possibly) more precisely controlled muscle fiber engagement (like decelerating a car from 70 to 50 miles an hour – you don’t let off the gas completely, just enough to maintain a slower speed, but you’re still pressing the gas either way.) You’re still providing upward energy when you lower a curl or a squat, just not so much that you actually travel upward – just enough to resist a sudden fall. Does that make sense?

      Any one who could clarify would be greatly appreciated!

      1. Maybe this is a good example: lock hands with someone and pull toward yourself (like in a bicep curl motion). Once your your elbow is fully bent, the other person could easily double their effort while you un-flex without it being that difficult for you. I don’t know if that’s true, but it seems like a good real-world example that doesn’t include the force of gravity. Or think about doing a pull-up and then having someone hang around your waist. There may be no way you could pull yourself up with them on hanging onto you, but you could fairly easily lower yourself slowly with the added person. If it was just due to the force of gravity, it would be even more difficult to do it slowly – your muscles would just give out.
        From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense – it would probably be very physically damaging if your muscles just gave up and relaxed suddenly under strain.

      2. See, it’s easy to think that since gravity pulls down, we’d need more “effort” to raise things than to lower them, but that’s not really the case. I think the simplest way to think about this is to consider you’re doing push-ups with most of your movements at constant speed and both phases (lifting and lowering) taking the same time:

        Resulting Force equals Mass times Acceleration, which means that for a constant movement, that is, a movement with zero acceleration, you’d need zero Resulting Force (which is the sum of all forces acting on a body).

        Gravity’s force on you is the same in both “phases” of your workout, and it’s this force that you have to counter-balance both for a steady rising and a steady lowering.

        So what happens is that when you’re going up, you start with a little extra force for a little time (and thus small distance) to get up to speed, then you just balance gravity to keep this speed on your way up (zero acceleration). Once you’re near your apex you exert a little less force (while still going up), so that you come to a stop before starting your way down. The first step, with a little more force, and the third, with a little less, have their differences from gravity’s force cancel each other out, so that your average force is that of gravity.

        Going down, something similar happens: you first use a little less force, to gain speed, then just keep up with gravity and finally exert a little more force to stop. The average force, again, is that of gravity.

        What this all means, physically, is that the work you exert (force times distance), is the same both up and down. Actually, the work is always the same both up and down, regardless of how constant the movement is or the time it takes. The power, however, changes.

        Now Power is the capacity to do Work in time. So as long as both parts of the movement take the same time, the average power used trough both motions is the same.

        Note that how constant the movement is has no bearing on the average power or total work in either phase, but only on the power and work on different parts “inside” each phase. So if your motion isn’t constant you’ll have “peaks” and “valleys” in power, which summed will cancel out back to the average.

        What all of this means is that as long as you do all the work yourself (e.g. don’t let your body fall flat on the ground before going up again) and the movements take the same time gravity has the same effect on the way down as it has on the way up as far as the amount of energy you have to spend and the average power needed through the movement are concerned.

        So, in sum: Physics says gravity isn’t helping you on the way down.

        Of course this is all raw physics, and other (physiological) considerations might mean slow, constant rising and lowering are more effective and safer as exercises or whatever.

        As to why evolution would shape our muscles to be “stronger” on eccentric movements, I don’t now. Perhaps it’s something structural, perhaps it’s for safety, or maybe we’d actually need these movements more: say you lift a rock to throw it, or hammer at a bone, or run, or push an attacker away, all of these, I think, emphasize eccentric motions. Probably it has to do with a little bit of all these factors and than a few more.

        1. I just realized I had the wrong idea of what and eccentric contraction is, so nevermind the examples on the last paragraph. The rest though is right.

    2. I always thought it was basic physics. Going up requires force to create both an upward acceleration to create movement and overcome gravity pulling you down (F=mg+ma).
      Going down on the otherhand, gravity is helping you out with the acceleration part, all you need to do is exert enough force to slow things down and not simply free fall (F<mg).

      So I don't think it's having more strength or using more force.

      1. The reason I think this is because I’ve noticed that the only cases where the way down (or back or whatever) is easier are when you’re working against gravity vs. with (or other similar resistance forces like springs, etc.) In every other case, it seems to be as hard (or easy) both ways.

      2. If this were true, then the theory would go out the window in zero-gravity, which I don’t think would happen. Gravity is just the force that is pulling the weight away from you (in a downward direction). There are plenty of circumstances where something exerts a force away from you but not down. Like a spring-loaded door, another person, a rambunctious dog on a leash, etc. It should be much easier to slowly release all of these things than to slowly pull them toward you, according to this theory.

  21. As a lift-heavy-things newbie I’ve found most of the info/advice out there to be depressingly confusing. But this the most thorough and CLEAR explanation of the topic that I’ve ever read–thank you, Jonathan!

  22. This article is spot on with my new training I am researching, new to me that is.

    I am planning on ditching my HIIT training and going with deadlifts, bench press, squats, weighted chins, overhead press, and some weighted walking lunges. 3x a week with a day of rest between, and 1 sprint session on off day.

    I have been making progress with HIIT, but if lifting heavy things is the answer and HIIT is very cardio in nature, is it really wise to mix the two. The extra energy expended on jumping from station to station with little rest could be retained for say deadlifting or squats.. maybe 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps of heavy weight.

    What are your thoughts on going old school strength training v.s. HIIT?

    1. The plan you’re looking at moving to is almost spot on with Medhi’s Stronglifts 5×5… maybe take a look at that and get an idea of the level of training you want to do – Medhi is quite blunt in his approach to everything, but the principles behind what he walks and talks are sound and he advocates proper form and the ability to lift a weight over trying to lift with your ego, at least.

    2. Just do StrongLifts, since that’s basically what you’re aiming for anyway.

      Run the basic plan 2-3 times and graduate to the fun stuff like Mad Cow. Where you go from doing heavy weight to pushing your max output every week.

      I’ve been doing it for a while and absolutely love it. Heavy weights are a hell of a lot more fun than running. Especially when you can lift over double your body weight.

    3. I do HIIT sprinting 3x each week which enabled me to drop 15 lbs in a short time– I don’t have weights, so i do bodyweight training a couple days during the week–

      I am gaining muscle mass but no bulk per se– stronger and longer.

      I use some of the exercises I found on youtube for tacfit.

  23. The value of eccentric or negative emphasized training seems pretty well established. The trick seems to be in doing it safely.

    Please note that if you push up a weight or your body bilaterally, and then unload one limb, you will often get a sudden shift in the loading on core and supporting muscles (depending on the nature of the exercise). That does create an opportunity for injuries in those core and supporting muscles.

  24. Thanks for the article I myself am a trainer and it is one of the biggest concerns of women that they would look like men and I keep on explaining but after reading this I think I can ask them to read this article for their satisfaction.

  25. Great article and one that I can easily incorporate into what I am already doing. This reminds me of a guy at the gym. In my mind I used to call him “The Jiggler”. He would work-out on a stair stepper for long periods but only move up and down about an inch or two, but very quickly (jiggle). I heard him bragging in the locker room that he did this for an hour three times a week. I suspected it was inefficient (his results weren’t that great) and now I know why.

  26. I’m wondering if this is something Grok would have done. If he picked up a basket of tubers and acorns and it required him to use both hands to get it off the ground, wouldn’t he use both hands to set it down back at camp? It seems like a basic instinct to protect oneself from injury, you use as much power to lower as it took to lift.

    Anyway, will doing this style of lowering give me more total strength than I had before, or will it just produce ‘show muscles’?

    1. Imagine holding a basket and having someone else load it with tubers and acorns. It gets to the point where it is too heavy to hold, so you slowly lower it to the ground. Then you decide to move it somewhere else and you can’t pick it back up without help. But once you have it up off the ground, it’s not that hard to keep it there and lower it again to a new spot. I’d imagine it’s the muscles way of controlling it’s own safety. You shouldn’t be able to lift anything heavier than you can safely lower, otherwise the muscle risks injury. Biology just builds in a certain amount of failover.

      1. Ooh, you just answered the question from page 1. Great work 🙂

        As for the “show muscles” thing, that’s a definite no. These will be real muscles, because you’ll be lowering even heavier than you can lift (or focusing on slow lowering instead of dropping weights, either way is positive). They aren’t the same muscles used to LIFT yourself into a pull-up, but you’ll definitely get stronger at the lowering part. And I think your muscle fiber type will become more type II as mentioned, which will help with fat loss as well as further size/strength gains.

  27. This post was HUGE! Thanks for this, Mark and Jonathan. I know too many friends and relatives who do chronic cardio that can benefit immensely from this post. Including the bit on lifting heavy not making people bulky was a great idea, too 🙂

    1. I understand there are lots of clever ways to apply this principle without a spotter (like some of the ideas that Mark mentioned), but is there home work-out equipment that facilitates this?

  28. Good to hear the ‘size principle’ applied to health and weight loss for once.
    The students I teach, and most sport scientists for that matter, only think about muscle fiber recruitment in regards to high-performance training, while forgetting it’s relevance to health and weight loss.
    I’ve just started a post-doctoral study looking at this exact thing. Looking forward to supporting the principles discussed in this post. Good work!

  29. My thought when I read this was various arm exercise machines that allow you to also use your legs to get it into position. Lift with your legs, and then lower with both of your arms.

  30. I did the workout from his book yesterday. Is awesome that it is short and intense, but I felt like I was trying to prevent a boulder from crushing me at the end of each ‘set.’

    I was afraid that I’d be too sore to move, but that hasn’t been the case as of 24 hours (my muscles are still taxed, and no way I could do this routine again any time soon). Will see if DOMS is killer tomorrow, but thus far I’ve enjoyed the test run.

    I would recommend not jumping into it full steam if you’re not a regular gym rat. Start with less time, and lower weight, then slowly dial it up. The workout WILL highlight strength imbalances.

    One other recommendation would be to alternate arms, instead of exhausting one then the other. Second arm/leg has a much more difficult time completing the six reps.

  31. I’m not really clear on how to train like this in practice. I don’t usually have access to machines.

    To some of the examples: I can do a full pushup or chinup. So reducing the work of the lifting phase (with knees or legs), just so that it’s realatively easier than the lowering phase doesn’t make the lowering phase any harder than it was before when I just did the full motion unassisted.

    I guess I could load a backpack full of weights that would prevent me from lifting the chinup without help and lowering with it.

    1. Reducing the weight (knees/legs) is for beginners. Otherwise regular pushup/chinup. The slow descent/deep pause is how it’s made more difficult.

      Weighted vests combined with the slow drop is what you’d have to do if the regular body weight lifts are too easy.

    2. Increase the leverage of push ups, eg feet up on something. Try to progress onto 1 arm push ups. Or keep 1 leg up in the air on your push or put both feet on a wall about a foot up (using the static/core to keep your feet on the wall) and do push ups that way. For pull ups have 1 arm out to the side as far as possible or hook a towel wound the bar and hold on to the towel so your hand is lower than pull up bar.

      1. for any of the unilateral work, such as 1 arm out to the side pull ups or push ups, make sure you do same reps on each side so start with your weaker side and once done do the same reps with your stronger to help balance strength.

  32. This article is perfectly timed! Tomorrow is my Lift Heavy Things Day and it is supposed to rain tomorrow (I hope it does, we need it) so I am stuck in the gym for the better part of my workout. I am going to try this on every machine I can get my hands on!

    I say that now, we’ll see how my muscles react after the leg and military press machines. I am so excited to hit the gym, now!

    Plus, this explains why after doing reverse pull-ups for maybe a week, I was strong enough to do true pull ups. I swear, it was like magic.

  33. It seems like when I’m super sore from doing a heavy workout (including negatives) I don’t sleep as well, and so I don’t recover as well. I wonder what data there might be on how super soreness effects cortisol levels and how it also might impact rest/sleep effectiveness. For me, it seems like my best workouts are those that leave me just slightly sore the next day and just slightly stiff the following day. Any more intensity and I just drag ass through the rest of the week. Maybe I’m short-changing myself, but I seem to have good gains if I shoot for this.

  34. I felt the soreness when I first started lifting heavy things. Now that I have been doing this for quite a while even the next day I still feel ok. I also think I have plateaued on my lifting. I always take protein afterwards and I’m following the paleo diet, but I need to find a way to continue gaining muscle. I’m also lifting the max of the machine for the chest press and the sit dip so I have to add extra weight on it.

    For the pulldown, I’m at 75% of the machine weight but I can’t seem to gain muscle anymore. I do notice that I’m still getting more lean and bulky muscle though.

  35. Just finished “Body by Science”. Great book which explains in great detail why this works. Great post. Thanks.

  36. Hi Mark,what do you think about “slow burn fitness revolution” by Hahn and Eades? Drs. Eades explain that a slow speed workout produces more greater strength gains,and above all, turns the body into a powerful fat burning machine.Thank you for all, I’m from Italy and there’s not a good site like yours here.

  37. Only one person has mentioned how this would apply to Grok. For me I will bear this in mind when lifting logs, heavy shopping, working in the garden and lifting boxes in the office. Am I the only one who doesn’t go to the gym?!

  38. If you have kids, try this:

    Do a push-up, then shout ‘now’ for them to jump on your back for the lowering part of the push-up (then ‘off!’).


    To increase difficulty over time, feed the children grains.

    1. Only feed someone ELSE’S kids grains! Bring in the neighbor’s kids! Have your kids do their own pushups next to you (without riders…){wink}

  39. Basically controlling your tempo will make you work harder. For example using a cadence of 2-1-2, means a pushup will take 2 seconds to lower, pausing at the bottom for 1 second, and pushing back up for 2 seconds. This controlled workout make it a lot harder to kick out 15 reps at that pace then to do 30 reps on a faster pace. This is the principle you usually find in old school body exercise books.

  40. This must be why it’s so easy to go down in a pistol but going UP is a whole ‘nother story…

  41. “Because these activities involve our large leg muscles.”

    You know, this probably explains why I know so many guys in the 280 lbs. + range who have really fantastic looking legs. They are the heavy object they’re lifting.

    The same probably goes for me too. I just don’t have the good-legs gene to help me along.

  42. So when I only did psuh ups/Pull ups/ bar dips/ sit ups, and jumped rope, I would return to the gym once in a blue moon, still bench and millitary quite a bit. Didn’t seem to need to lift anything other then my body, though maybe at 180, that is lifting heavy things?.

  43. I’ve been doing the Body By Science style of High Intensity Training, and I lift as much as I possibly can – but I don’t get sore! I think I’m following the right technique: slow reps, heaviest weight I can life, go until total muscular failure – but still no soreness. Any advice out there?

  44. About 10 years ago, I worked as a laborer at a large refinery. Since I was an old lady (47), I was in charge of refilling the 10 gallon water jugs. We gathered 42 partially filled jugs, emptied them, loaded them into a truck, took them to a clean water station, washed them, filled them, loaded them into the truck again, and unloaded them throughout the plant. I did this with 2 other ladies. I saw incredible improvement in body comp. Previous cw workout regimes made me feel tired and run down. I was sick constantly. I only lost about 18 lbs as a water girl, but went from a boutique size 18 to a size 10…IN TWO WEEKS. This new information helps explain what I thought was a fluke.

  45. The article is pretty good for promoting weight lifting as the most productive of all exercises and John is right about the genetics issue. However, he left out some very important information (unless I missed it) that is worth noting.

    It’s not heavy weight loads that do the trick of activating all of the fast twitch fibers. What gets all the fibers humming along nicely is training to muscular failure (or muscular success as we call it at Serious Strength) or darn close to it.

    What this means is, you DO NOT need to use heavy weights to stimulate muscular growth. Research by Phillips et al have shown that weight loads that are 30% of what you can lift one time in a given exercise is sufficient to spark the same results as using 80%.

    C:\Users\Fred\Desktop\Desktop\Exercise PDF’s\High, Low Load and MPS.mht

    I have some issues with this study, but it does seem to support the theory of orderly recruitment. IOW, just because the weight is heavy does NOT mean that you are training ALL your type 2 fibers.

    As for the eccentric training he suggests, don’t do it. It’s more dangerous than need be and will NOT give you measurable better results. Use 70% of what you can lift once for as many reps as possible using a slow lifting tempo for safety for all of your major muscle groups, 2X per week.

  46. On advice from above, I did 20 slow descent pull-ups with ab crunches…


    My mind just got blown by how tough (in a good way) that was! That and how sore I am already…

    What a game changer this will be for me!

  47. “My gym has two-pound weights. If you are using two-pound weights, how did you even open the door to the gym? What’s your dream? To pump up and open your mail? – Dave Attell, Comic.”

    Oh how I laughed at that!

  48. lifting weights is great, but most men take it too far in terms of muscle gains…

    i mean being a huge freak monster isn’t attractive at all…

    being just lean and ripped is more than enough

  49. So how would this thinking be put into place for someone on the advanced moves of Marks LHT programme?


  50. Awesome article. I know too many women that worry they’ll lose their feminine look if they workout heavy. Ladies no worries your testosterone levels are 12 times less than male. Don’t trust those pictures you see of female bodybuilders who use steroids or growth hormones.

  51. I really enjoy these guest posts and appreciate the long list of references at the end!

    Thanks, Jonathan Bailor! Great article!

  52. This is a great article. I love eccentric training and have used it in the past to learn to perform one armed push-ups after having failed to do so for years. Next stop: one armed chin ups.
    This form of training seems perfectly suited for acquiring isometric strength/coordination while enjoying multiple metabolic benefits as well.

    Thanks for sharing, Jonathan. And thanks to Mark for keeping such a great site that promotes research instead of hype.

  53. I am a 58 year old strength athlete competing regularly in Scottish Highland Games. In strength athlete circles it is generally held, even by the “experts”, that eccentric exercises are counterproductive for achieving maximum fast twitch fibers and hence maximum explosive strength needed for throwing events.

    As I read through this article, I was impressed by the scientific explanations. From what I read in this article, it appears that the slow, heavy eccentrics work the type II fibers.

    Do you, or your readers, know any more about this claim. Are slow, heavy eccentric movements good for developing fast twitch fibers or are they detrimental?

  54. Is the author saying DOMS, especially intense onset, are a good thing? That seems to fly in the face of personal experience and general weightlifting wisdom.

  55. Awesome post. I’m sore for 4-6 days after a workout like this realy does work

  56. its called a negative work out.I used this for handstand pushup and one handed pull ups.

  57. Hi,

    As mentioned I’m sending my messsage in this comment.


    My name is Maria and I really enjoyed reading some of your blogs.

    Actually, I’m a blogger and expert in writing blogs on staff on hourly basis for busy people, hiring personnel on a temporary for professionals, businessman, entrepreneur etc.

    Kindly let me know if you have any terms and conditions, in accepting my guest blog post on saving time by hiring personnel related information. I would also be actively involved in answering to reader’s query related to my post.

    Looking forward to hear positive response from you.

    Have a great day!

    Thanks & Regards,

  58. Training with forced negatives at the end of a set, negatives that are too heavy to lift in the positive phase, or accentuating negatives with long slow lowering of the weight can certainly be a part of a muscular development program.

    On the other hand, some of the same research mentioned here also mentions “The specialised neural pattern of eccentric actions possibly explains the high specificity of strength gains after eccentric training. Further research is required to investigate the underlying mechanisms of this specificity and its functional significance in terms of transferability of strength gains to more complex human movements.”

    That’s from “The effects of eccentric versus concentric resistance training on muscle strength and mass in healthy adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis” in 2009.

    Basically eccentric training, while superior for growing muscle mass, might not have as much general strength carryover as concentric or both concentric and eccentric training.

    Heavy eccentric training might also increase the risk of injury:

    “Due to the variations in morphological and architectural characteristics of fibers within a skeletal muscle, regions of a muscle may be differently affected by eccentric exercise. Although eccentric exercise may be beneficial for increasing muscle mass and can be beneficial for the treatment of tendinopathies, the non-uniform effect of eccentric exercise results in regional muscle damage and as a consequence, non-uniform changes in muscle activation. This regional muscle weakness can contribute to muscle strength imbalances and may potentially alter the load distribution on joint structures, increasing the risk of injury.”

    That’s from “Non-uniform muscle adaptations to eccentric exercise and the implications for training and sport” 2012.

    So before we switch out too much concentric for eccentric, we might want to be cautious about eccentric-only or highly emphasized eccentric training in terms of carryover and possible increased injury risk.