If mastering a pullup is on your short list of fitness goals, training with negative pullups, or negatives, may help you reach your goal faster than ordinary strength training exercises.
Negatives are the downward half of a pullup — the part where you lower yourself from the bar. Athletic trainers and physical therapists refer to negative pullups as “closed chain” exercises because your hands stay connected to the bar throughout the exercise.
Start above the bar
Since you’re only executing the latter half of a pullup, you’ll need to start with your chin above the bar.
You can stand on any secure object to get you into the correct position — a stepladder or stable chair or exercise box all work well. You can also ask a spotter to lift you up and hold you in position until you’re ready to begin.
Pull your shoulder blades together
Engage your latissimus dorsi muscles and don’t rely on the muscles in your arms by lifting your chest slightly and pull your shoulder blades toward each other, as though you’re trying to make them meet. Think of your shoulder blades as “down and back” before you step off your support.
Lift your feet off of your step if they’re not already in the air. Then slowly lower yourself from the bar, controlling your descent to maximize resistance on the way down.
Maintaining control of the release is the hard part — just dropping off the bar won’t build muscle or teach your body the sequence of the muscle movements.
You’re finished when you’re in a “dead hang” with your arms fully extended over your head and your feet touching either the floor or the object on which you initially stood.
You can repeat the negative on its own or pair it with partner-assisted pullups to build strength.
When you’ve built the muscle control to complete a negative from start to finish, you can increase endurance by pausing for several seconds as you lower yourself.
Try one pause at first, then gradually increase the number of pausing intervals until you’re stopping for 5 to 10 seconds at one-quarter, half, and three-quarters of the way down.
Negatives are considered eccentric exercises, meaning that the muscle is lengthening during the movement rather than shortening or contracting.
Lots of research has been done to determine whether lengthening muscles or contracting them is more effective at building strength and muscle mass.
The important takeaway here is that negative pullups build muscle in the same groups you’ll need to do a full pullup.
Negatives also give you a chance to increase your grip strength. Clutching the bar — even in a dead hang — requires power in the complex network of muscles in your hands, wrists, and forearms. Regularly executing a series of negatives gradually increases your grip strength and endurance.
Negatives teach your body how to perform a pullup. There are lots of ways to build muscle mass, strength, and endurance. The advantage of doing negatives is that you’re training your muscles in the sequence your body needs to know to execute a pullup correctly.
Dead hang first
If you’re finding the negative too challenging, start with the dead hang to build your grip strength. Gradually increase the time you spend in the dead hang — arms extended, feet off the support — as long as possible.
You might find it helpful to work with a trainer to develop a progression so you know how many of each exercise you need to do to reach your goal in a safe timeframe.
Count as you come down. If it takes you two seconds to descend on your first attempt, try doing several reps at half that time — one second each rep — resting briefly between reps. Every time you train, add two or more seconds to your descent time.
Wider is not better
Keep your hands just wider than shoulder distance apart on the pullup bar. A small
Also, keep in mind that this type of exercise generally puts stress on your shoulders, so it isn’t best for everyone.
Time it right
Because negatives are demanding, you may want to do them at a point in your workout when you’re not already fatigued.
Strengthening back muscles with pulling exercises like pullups, lat pulls, and negative pullups is only half the formula for healthy musculoskeletal functioning. To maintain good posture and prevent overuse injuries, it’s important to keep a good balance between pushing and pulling exercises.
The same study found that women were almost three times as strong at pushing exercises as they were at pullups. One takeaway may be that strength imbalances exist even among people who exercise regularly, and conscious counterbalancing needs to be part of a workout strategy.
Negative pullups are an effective way to build muscle and train for full pullups.
In a negative pullup, you use support to raise yourself to the midway point of a pullup, with your chin over the bar. Then, resisting gravity, you slowly lower yourself into a dead hang, keeping control of your back and arm muscles as you release down.
If you gradually increase the amount of time it takes you to descend, you’ll build the strength you need to get your first pullup.