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When It's Good To Be Negative
Copyright Pete Kautz 2014/18

The other day I was talking to a friend in NYC who does Muai Thai. She told me that her coach has her working on what they call "grasshopper" push ups. These are where you keep your hands directly under your shoulders and your elbows in tight to your sides as you lower yourself.

They are a demanding push up variation and so to help develop the strength she's been doing negative repetitions. But what are negative repetitions you ask? Let me explain...

In technical terms, when the muscle shortens it is considered concentric (positive) contraction and when a muscle lengthens it is called a eccentric (negative) contraction.

That means for my friend she lowers herself slowly to the floor with good form (the negative half of the exercise) but does not push back up (the positive half of the exercise).

This is a really smart way to go in developing strength because negative repetitions allow us to handle much greater loads of weight then we can when making the full motion. That's why one of the only "negative" side-effects of doing negative repetitions is possible increased muscle soreness.

In learning to do chin ups and pull ups I based my program entirely on doing sets of negative repetitions. After a few months of this, the first actual full pull up was surprisingly easy to do.

Of course this concept of negative actions can also apply to perfecting martial arts techniques like punches and kicks to make them faster and more precise. Let's look at a non-telegraphic straight thrust with the Bowie Knife as an example, OK?

For many people, especially when applying power to strike a target like the heavy bag, they focus mostly on extending the arm. The retraction is not given as much consideration.

While this might be fine for pure power it is a very bad habit for sparring or actual application because you'll end off-balance and possibly get your extended hand or arm struck by a crafty opponent.

So, to correct this you want to do negative repetitions where you start with your arm extended, training knife pushing into the bag. Then, in one smooth action quickly retract the arm and regain your correct stance and distance.

By working on this second half of the action in isolation you'll improve the overall speed, power, and quality of your thrust!

Another example that you can easily do this with is the good old side-kick.

Start with your foot already on the target and practice the recovery back to your on guard stance. Many beginners just lazily drop the foot after the kick, so the negative will help them to develop the correct return fold.

To add the positive back in and make it faster, do the negative first, then the positive, then the negative again. Then reset on the target.

So in the case of the kick, you'll start with your foot on the target, retract it back to your on guard stance and then fully kick and recover again.

You guys who've been in the Kenpo arts and related know how the ricochet works, so as you slap with one hand on your body it's the negative to prime the positive on the bounce. This is another application using the same idea.

So, this week think about how you could apply this "negative thinking" to other aspects of your art such as punching, weapons, etc. and see what you can learn!

All my very best to you,

Pete Kautz

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