I stopped into Barnes and Noble one Saturday, and I flipped through a book titled “Steroid Nation” by Shaun Assael. It was an interesting read, because the first chapter shed light on Dan Duchaine’s personal life. Most people in bodybuilding know the late Dan Duchaine as “the Steroid Guru” who co-wrote “The Underground Steroid Handbook.” Although his forte was in steroid pharmacology, Duchaine also created a rather innovative workout program (no steroids required) called “the Body Contract System.” Although the system was an incomplete bodybuilding program, it did introduce an unusual way to perform negative reps.
A “negative” rep, as you know, is simply you slowing down the eccentric or lowering portion of a weighted exercise. You resist the pull of gravity on the weight itself. There are many variations of accentuated eccentric training, but the two most common are:
1. Lifting a weight quickly and lowering it slowly for a prescribed tempo. For example, a tempo of 10/2/X/2 means that for each rep you lower the weight for 10 seconds, pause in the stretch position for 2 seconds, explode (X) the weight up, and contract the muscle for 2 seconds.
2. Eliminating the concentric or lifting portion altogether and simply perform negatives at a weight greater than your one rep max, usually 110-120%. Spotters are usually required for this method.
Duchaine introduced a novel variation to negative training. He felt an anabolic response could be triggered without the usual excessive trauma of eccentric training. The way he got around this was to first warm up the muscles with concentric reps and then perform the negatives. Here’s how it worked: you perform 10-12 reps at 70% of your one rep max (1RM), but before you set the weight down, spotters add more weight (15% of your 1RM) and you perform 3 negatives. If you’ve never tried this workout, then let me tell you, it will give you an enormous pump. Despite what Duchaine wrote about minimal soreness on the Body Contract System, you will be incredibly sore. It is the type of soreness, however, that let’s you know you’ve created an anabolic environment for the muscles worked. The drawback to the Body Contract System is that many exercises require one or even two spotters. If you train alone, then this can be a problem. Because of this, I find Body Contract works well on machines. You don’t need a spotter to up the weight and perform the 3 negatives. Here are some of my favorite exercises to use in the Body Contract System:
- Pec deck flyes
- Leg extensions
- Incline curls
- Standing machine calf raises
- Seated calf raises
Note that I’m not following the Body Contract System to “T.” Duchaine wanted spotters, so that the lifter would do 10-12 reps, hold the weight and the spotters would load up the extra 15% of weight. He wanted this to eliminate any gaps in muscular tension and to avoid ATP replenishment in the muscle during the set. But if you train by yourself, then you will need to set the weight down in order to load up or pick up the next weight up for the negatives. Your ATP will momentarily replenish during that second, but I doubt your muscle’s hypertrophy response will be any less.
The Pros and Cons of Eccentric Training
Although eccentric training can induce muscular size, many people in the strength and bodybuilding biz feel that eccentric training has a poor cost to benefit ratio. In other words, although the size gains from negatives is significant, the training is too traumatic and damaging to the muscles. The Soviets (when there was a Soviet Union) looked into eccentric training, but felt it didn’t do much for strength gains in the long run. For purposes of bodybuilding, I’ve found the size gains from negative training are fleeting. It is harder to gain and maintain muscle on eccentric-based training. With negatives, localized hormones (hormones found inside the muscles themselves) such as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and fibroblast growth factor (FGF) are released into the bloodstream. Subsequent growth ensues. The problem is negative training is so traumatic that it will knock out testosterone receptors in the trained muscles. And testosterone has far more lasting and permanent effects on muscle size than either IGF-1 or FGF.
How to Get Around the Problem?
Another flaw in the Body Contract System is that each body part is trained once a week. Granted, the lifter would bash the hell out of each muscle group, so he would need a week’s rest. Studies show, however, that in order to gain muscle, a higher frequency of training is better. A higher frequency allows you to gain muscle, retain muscle and gain again on top of what you’ve already built. Training with negatives three times per week, however, would be too traumatic for the body, and you would be headed into the overtraining zone fairly quickly. I experimented with Body Contract back in 1996, and I revamped it to make it even better. Here’s how it works:
- Choose only ONE exercise per body part to utilize the Body Contract negatives. From my experience, you only need one exercise to induce the anabolic response.
- Each muscle group is trained three times per week with 3 different types of workouts:
- Body Contract Workout
- Active Recovery Workout (all sets involve 12-15 light reps)
- T-boost Workout (low reps, high rest, no excessive eccentric emphasis)
Whereas the Body Contract Workout facilitates the release of IGF-1 and FGF, the active recovery workouts facilitate recovery from the eccentric based Body Contract Workout. Rather than wait a week for muscles to recover, you speed up recovery by pumping the muscles with blood to clear out lingering toxins and introduce nutrients and circulating hormones. This in turn primes your muscles for the testosterone-boosting workout, where lower reps and heavy weight are used to release testosterone in your body. By cycling these very different workouts, you induce hypertrophy through multiple hormonal pathways, rather than just one. Here’s the Body Contract System 2.0 in detail: Workout #1: Body Contract A1) 20 degree dumbbell press – 3 sets, 6-8 reps, no rest A2) Pushups – 3 sets, as many reps as possible (AMRAP), 1 minute rest B) Pec deck flyes – 3 sets, 10-12 reps plus 3 negatives at higher weight, 3 minutes rest C) Pull-ups – one warm-up set followed by 3 sets, AMRAP plus 3 negatives (no weight added), 3 minutes rest D) Lateral raises – 3 sets, 10-12 reps, 1 minute rest E) Incline curls- 3 sets, 10-12 reps plus 3 negatives with heavier dumbbells, 3 minutes rest F) Pressdowns – 3 sets, 10-12 reps, 1 minute rest Workout #2: Body Contract A1) Back squats – 3 sets, 10-12 reps, no rest A2) Sissy squats – 3 sets, AMRAP, 1 minute rest B) Leg extensions – 3 sets, 10-12 reps plus 3 negatives at higher weight, 3 minutes rest C) Leg curls – 3 sets, 5-7 reps, 1 minute rest D) Standing calf raises – One warm-up set followed by 3 sets, 10-12 reps plus 3 negatives at higher weight, 3 minutes rest E) Seated calf raises – 3 sets, 10-12 reps plus 3 negative at higher weight, 3 minutes rest Workout #3: Active Recovery A) Neck press – 3 sets, 12-15 reps, 90 seconds rest B) Seated cable rows – 3 sets, 12-15 reps, 90 seconds rest C) Lunges – 3 sets, 12-15 reps, 90 seconds rest D) Lying dumbbell curls – 3 sets, 12-15 reps, 90 seconds rest E) Dips – 3 sets, AMRAP, 90 seconds rest F) One legged calf raise (bodyweight only) – 3 sets, AMRAP, 90 seconds rest Workout #4: T-Boost A1) Bench press – 5 sets, 5 reps, 2 minutes rest A2) T-bar rows – 5 sets, 5 reps, 2 minutes rest B1) Military press – 5 sets, 5 reps, 2 minutes rest B2) Deadlifts – 5 sets, 5 reps, 2 minutes rest When you have days off from training is up to you, as long as you complete all 4 workouts in a week period. Don’t follow this program longer than 2 weeks, because you will overtrain. Once you’ve done 2 weeks of Body Contract 2.0, switch to a decompression workout such as the 3-5 Method: 3-5 exercises for the entire body, 3-5 days per week, 3-5 sets, 3-5 reps, 3-5 minutes rest. As you can see, not every body part undergoes the Body Contract treatment, because not every body part has exercises conducive for eccentric based lifting without the use of spotters. Nevertheless, the Body Contract System 2.0 will jump start your hypertrophy gains and help you achieve a complete physique.
About the Author
James Chan works full-time as a police officer for the University of California Police Department in San Francisco. James is also an NSCA certified personal trainer, specializing in strength training and physique enhancement. His book “Strength and Physique, Volume One: the Articles” is available at Lulu.com. For more of his insights into strength training and bodybuilding, visit his blog:http://www.strengthandphysique.blogspot.com