Negative Squat: Benefits, Muscles Used, More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 24, 2022

Among the numerous variations of the standard back squat, the negative squat (AKA the eccentric squat) has one of the most specific use-cases, as it is an exercise almost entirely performed for the purposes of increasing squat strength itself.

The negative squat sees the most frequent incorporation in powerlifting and strongman training programs, though practically any individual wishing to greatly boost their leg strength can perform the exercise as well.

Simply put, the negative squat is the standard barbell back squat with the descending portion of the movement being slowed down - a modification of the squat that produces quite a number of benefits relating to strength and proper squat execution.

What is the Negative Squat?

In more technical terms, the negative squat is a free weight compound resistance exercise considered to be an accessory or partner movement to the standard back squat, with its additional caveats placing it squarely in the advanced category of exercises.

negative squat

The negative squat is most often performed during the off-season training of competitive weightlifters, or as an accessory exercise performed after the traditional back squat during the course of non-competitive strength training.

In certain cases, the negative squat is even used as a rehabilitative or preventative exercise, wherein it is meant to iron out sticking points or form errors relating to the traditional barbell back squat.

What Muscles Does the Negative Squat Work?

The negative squat trains much the same muscle groups as its more traditional counterpart; that being the quadriceps femoris, the hamstrings, the gluteus muscle group, and the lower back.

full squat side view

As for stabilizer or accessory muscle groups; there are the muscles of the calves, the core, and the erector spinae.

Unlike in the traditional squat, every muscle group recruited by the negative squat is recruited isometrically to a significant extent, increasing muscular endurance and stressing the central nervous system to a greater degree.

Why is the Negative Squat Performed?

The negative squat is usually performed so as to reinforce proper squat execution, or otherwise boost the total weight that a lifter can move during the traditional back squat. 

These two benefits are achieved by the exerciser performing a slower eccentric portion of the squat movement, creating a longer time under tension and forcing the exerciser to exert their neurology in order to keep their muscles contracting at the appropriate level.

How to Perform the Negative Squat

Performing the negative squat is much like performing the traditional back squat, only with the initial phase of the repetition performed at a slower and more controlled pace. 

Setting Up the Negative Squat

To set up prior to a set of negative squat repetitions, it is recommended that the lifter only load approximately 70% of their back squat working weight, as the longer time under tension of the negative squat will reduce how much weight they can move per repetition.

It is advisable that the lifter determine a specific length of time in which they will descend through the negative (eccentric) portion of the movement. 

negative squat

Some of the more common are 4 seconds down, 2 seconds up - while powerlifters or other strength-based athletes can even stretch the negative for as long as 8 seconds at a time.

Then, when ready to perform the set, the lifter will step beneath the bar and unrack it, hands securing the bar to their traps or neck.

Performing the Repetition

To begin performing a repetition of the negative squat, the exerciser will step out of the rack and assume the initial squatting stance of their feet wider than shoulder width apart, and the back maintained at a neutral angle.

Pushing their chest out and contracting their core, the lifter will then bend at the hips and knees simultaneously, thrusting the buttocks backwards. This is the portion of the movement that is meant to be slowed down, and as such the lifter must count the seconds as they stretch out this phase of the repetition.

Once reaching full squat depth, the exerciser will push downwards through their heels, rising by extending their knees and hips in a simultaneous manner. There is no need to slow down this part of the repetition.

The repetition is complete once the exerciser has returned to a standing position, with subsequent repetitions simply repeating the previous movements without the need to unrack the barbell once again.

Benefits of the Negative Squat

Greater Strength Development

The most common reason why the negative squat is incorporated into a training routine is because of its capacity to develop both squat-specific strength alongside general lower body force output, making it useful for not only powerlifters, but individuals seeking muscular strength in the legs as well.

For a particularly effective strength-development workout, combining high volume sets with the negative squat can easily overcome squat strength plateaus, or otherwise highlight errors in your form that may be contributing to an inefficient squat.

Form Perfection

The negative squat is one of the most effective methods of diagnosing issues with a lifter’s squat execution, with sticking points and “dive bombing” in particular being mechanical issues that are directly remedied by the performance of the negative squat.

squat hips too high

Other squat execution errors that are made noticeable or otherwise fixed by the negative squat are; moving the hips and knees at separate times, leaning excessively forward or moving one side of the body prior to the other during the repetition.

Muscular Stamina Improvement

The extensive length of time under tension during a negative squat repetition will result in greater muscular endurance over time, especially in regards to isometric muscular endurance. 

This leads to marathon runners or other kinds of endurance athletes also performing the negative squat, improving their sustained force output and exactly how long their slow-twitch muscle fibers can contract at full power.

Negative Squat to Back Squat Carry-Over

Considering the fact that the negative squat is an adjunct exercise to the traditional back squat, there is often a question as to how much of the strength developed during the negative squat carries over to the latter squat variation.

The answer to this question is it depends, as not every individual has the same muscular makeup or issues in squat execution. 

low bar squat form

Differences in genetics, limiting factors such as femur length and even simple psychological influences all play a part in total squat weight, all of which are factors that are otherwise unaffected by the negative squat.

For the most part, one can expect a significant improvement in their squat working weight up to approximately an advanced level, where linear progression starts to fall off. 

At this point, certain types of strength athletes will further incorporate negative squats into certain periodization blocks, or otherwise resort to different tactics in order to continue progressing with their squat total.

Common Negative Squat Mistakes

Counting Improperly

The most obvious but also the most frequently encountered mistake while performing the negative squat is that of improper counting, wherein the lifter will either count for too long a length of time or too short a length of time.

This can be remedied by having a spotter count the seconds instead, or by using a stopwatch or cellphone application to track the timing of your eccentric squat movement.

Using Too Much Weight

Due to the longer time under tension of the negative squat, many lifters will find that they are unable to use the same amount of weight that they would normally be able to lift with a traditional back squat. 

While many are already aware of this, loading excessive weight onto the barbell during a negative squat can easily lead to injury as form breaks down due to muscular fatigue or simple unfamiliarity with a slowed eccentric squat movement.

We advise that lifters new to the negative squat first perform the exercise with an empty barbell so as to become more familiar with the cues and mechanics of the exercise, even if they are already familiar with the traditional back squat.

Knees Collapsing Inwards During Eccentric Phase

Though not solely found during negative squat execution, the knees collapsing towards each other during the eccentric phase of a squat repetition can easily lead to a large number of injuries both acute and chronic in nature.

squat incorrect knees

Internally collapsing or rotating knees are known as knee valgus, and are generally a result of poor gluteal muscle recruitment or poor hip mobility - two factors that must be addressed prior to continuing any squat variation performance.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can You Do a Negative Bodyweight Squat?

Yes - the concept of performing a negative squat is not solely for weighted squat exercises, as a negative bodyweight squat is also frequently encountered in many athletic and calisthenic training programs.

In fact, the ever-popular wall squat exercise is mechanically similar to a negative bodyweight squat - only with far less dynamic contraction, and greater isometric muscular contraction instead.

Performing a negative bodyweight squat shares much of the same mechanics and characteristics as the negative weighted squat, with the sole difference being the manner in which they are programmed into a workout routine.

Due to a lack of additional resistance, exercisers will be capable of performing far more repetitions of the bodyweight squat than its weighted counterpart, allowing for more repetitions per set or a slower eccentric portion per repetition.

What is a Negative Exercise?

A negative exercise is any sort of resistance exercise that has the eccentric portion of the repetition stretched out over a predetermined length of time. 

This can appear as the lifter slowly lowering the barbell to their chest during a negative bench press repetition, or even an exerciser fighting gravity for an extended period during a pull up repetition.

Negative exercises are a major component of any strength plateau-breaking training program, and are most often incorporated in intermediate or advanced level strength routines due to their effectiveness and complexity.

Do Negative Squats Help With a Plateau?

Whether the performance of negative squats will help break through your plateau will depend, as plateaus can be caused by a variety of different reasons and not all are directly related to the actual quality of your training itself.

If the reason behind your plateau is simply not having enough training stimulus be placed on your nervous system and musculature, then negative squats should almost immediately remedy the issue - so long as they are combined with proper recovery and macronutrient intake.

Furthermore, negative squats tend to highlight any issues that may be present during your back squat execution, providing another route in which a plateau may be broken by negative squat performance.

However, if your plateau is caused by other factors like a fear of lifting heavy, a history of injury or poor diet, then negative squats are unlikely to help in any manner. In fact, repeatedly performing negative squats while fatigued or injured will only make matters worse.

Final Words

To conclude this article, we would like to reiterate the point that negative squats are not meant to act as a substitute for back squats, and are instead meant to be used as a supplementary exercise so as to reinforce an already complete leg workout.

While negative squats are perfectly capable of acting as a standalone exercise on their own, there are several aspects of resistance training that they do not develop readily enough to warrant acting as a substitute to traditional barbell back squats.

Nonetheless, negative squats are still a perfectly effective tool when executed in the correct situation, and many lifters will see obvious benefit from their usage.

References

1. Kim DY, Oh SL, Lim JY. Applications of Eccentric Exercise to Improve Muscle and Mobility Function in Older Adults. Ann Geriatr Med Res. 2022 Mar;26(1):4-15. doi: 10.4235/agmr.21.0138. Epub 2022 Jan 18. PMID: 35038818; PMCID: PMC8984170.

2. Davó, José Luis Hernández, Pedro Monteagudo Jiménez, and Rafael Sabido Solana. "Comparison of six weeks eccentric overload training between bilateral and unilateral squat in basketball players." European Journal of Human Movement 40 (2018): 111-121.

3. Coratella G, Beato M, Cè E, Scurati R, Milanese C, Schena F, Esposito F. Effects of in-season enhanced negative work-based vs traditional weight training on change of direction and hamstrings-to-quadriceps ratio in soccer players. Biol Sport. 2019 Sep;36(3):241-248. doi: 10.5114/biolsport.2019.87045. Epub 2019 Jul 31. PMID: 31624418; PMCID: PMC6786325.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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