Research Shows How You Can Still Gain Muscle Mass By Lowering Your Weights

You see that big beefy guy straining to eke out that last rep of dumbbell curls, then BAM! He slams the weights on the floor, causing everyone to look his way. If he only knew that to build more muscle, he needs to lower his weights. No, not lift lighter weights, but lower them. When many of us lift weights, we're focusing on the actual lift, which is the concentric contraction (via Shape). We then let gravity do its thing when we bring the weight back down. However, this eccentric contraction, also called the "negative," can help us build more muscle mass, strength, and flexibility. It requires a lot of work to lower the weight rather than slam it.

A 2022 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found evidence for this. People inexperienced in strength training were divided into four groups. One group did a bicep curl emphasizing the concentric lift, another focused on the eccentric, and a third lifted the dumbbell both ways, as you might do usually. The fourth group served as a control. All lifting groups performed their lifts at a two-second tempo, and the eccentric and concentric groups had a researcher assist with the opposing contraction. In other words, those in the concentric group would have a researcher lower it for two seconds. All training groups did three sets of 10 reps twice a week for five weeks.

The difference between lifting and lowering weights

The eccentric group had made similar gains in muscle strength to the group that performed both the lift and lower. However, the concentric group — those who focused on the lift — didn't see as many gains in strength. They also didn't see the same gains in muscle mass. The eccentric group had the most gains in muscle mass compared with the other training groups (plus the control group).

According to Edith Cowan University professor and study author Ken Nosaka, eccentric training can be a more efficient way to strength train. "We already know only one eccentric muscle contraction a day can increase muscle strength if it is performed five days a week — even if it's only three seconds a day — but concentric (lifting a weight) or isometric muscle contraction (holding a weight) does not provide such an effect," Nosaka said in a news release.

Nosaka said you can practice eccentric training while doing bicep curls, front raises, overhead extensions, and shoulder presses. Use both hands to assist in lifting the weight, but lower the weight using a single arm. You can also emphasize the eccentric contractions on the leg curl and leg extension machines.

The next time you see that big guy slamming the weight on the floor, tell him he'd be better off lowering the weight.