The science behind fitness training is unavoidable. While we toil with the countless exercises available to strengthen our body, a bigger part of how we work out is using techniques that maximize every single repetition of a given weight.
The term "prime movers" is used to describe the muscle group responsible for moving a weight to its end-point.
For example, the standing biceps curl makes use of the bicep muscle as the prime mover or the "agonist" — a term used to describe the muscle that gets shorter when moving a given load or resistance.
When working against any weight resistance, we often neglect a key element in the process of push, pulling, raising or lowering the weight — the "negative."
The negative is most aptly described of the lowering or returning of the weight to its original starting position and is a key part of the two-part process of shortening and lengthening a muscle.
Observe in any gym how frequently a person lifting put significant momentum and force into the first part of a particular lift, and neglects to slow down the weight to its original starting position.
One of the key components of muscle strengthening and development is the time that muscle is under tension, sometimes referred to as the "TUT" principle. Not only does a muscle under tension work harder, but muscular science has determined that more muscle fibers are used when a person maximizes the negative or slow return of the weight to its original position.
In addition to the time the muscle is under tension, and the recruitment of more muscle fiber there is also the additional component that more weight can be used during this method of lifting.
To the wary reader, the question of "how can the first part of the lift be performed if the negative aspect can be done with more weight?" makes perfect sense. The answer to this is having a good and reliable spotter. A good spotter will always (with a capital "A") have his hands in contact with the bar or hands of the person performing the negative, so that when ultimate muscle failure occurs, the weight does not drop on the lifter.
What makes the negative lift so functional is that it can be applied in multiple movements that are not limited to weight lifting. For example, the pull-up can be performed by standing on a step that brings the chin over the pull-up bar, and then on a count of 5 seconds, lowering yourself slowly until your arms are completely extended. A push-up (the nemesis to many people) can be done the same way -- getting into a locked elbow "plank" position and then slowly lowering your chest to the ground over a 5-second count. Come up to the knees and repeat.
There are very few resistance-training movements, whether it be calisthenics, bands, suspension straps, machines, barbells or dumbbells, that can't take advantage of this method of training.
Bill Victor is the owner of Victor Fitness System Professional Fitness Trainers, Flashpoint Athletic Speed & Agility Specialists, and Performance Nutrition Consultants. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and online at http://theflashpoint.org and http://VictorFitnessSystems.com