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A pro bodybuilder explains why lifting lighter weights can build more muscle — if you do it correctly

Gabby Landsverk   

A pro bodybuilder explains why lifting lighter weights can build more muscle — if you do it correctly
  • An elite bodybuilder said he uses an exercise technique called slow negatives to build more muscle.
  • Also called eccentric reps, negatives can help optimize gains by putting more tension on the muscle.

Bodybuilder Nick Walker said a simple technique has helped him pack on muscle without maxing out on heavy weights.

Fresh from winning the New York Pro in May, Walker has punched his ticket to the 2024 Mr. Olympia, the most prestigious competition in the sport. Last year, he was a favorite to win that competition before he was sidelined by an injury, and in 2022, Walker took home the Olympia bronze as well as the fan-favorite "People's Champ" award.

Competing among the biggest and most ripped athletes in the world takes serious commitment. But one of Walker's favorite gym techniques can help you train smarter, save time, and sculpt an athletic physique even if you're not trying to get huge.

Building lean muscle is less about maxing out on weight and more about putting tension on the muscles with precise form, Walker told Business Insider in an interview through his partnership with the energy drink brand Celsius.

"I train very slow, very controlled. I try to make the movement harder without increasing weight too much," he said. "That's where the muscle grows."

Walker is no stranger to moving big weights but said lifting heavy is less of a priority now. Instead, he's been incorporating slow negatives, a technique for maximizing muscle growth with slightly less weight.

"Being strong got me to a certain level, but I don't think it helped so much in a bodybuilding perspective in terms of improving physique and in certain body parts," he said. "I learned to lighten the load and really contract the muscle as hard as I can."

Also known as eccentric reps, negatives involve focusing on the lengthening or lowering portion of an exercise, often slowing down the movement to increase tension on the muscle (which is what leads to growth). Strength coach Dave Rienzi previously told Business Insider that he trains Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson using the technique, and while a good eccentric rep may be slightly lighter, you'll still want it to be heavy enough to feel challenging.

Eccentric reps also save time in the gym since your muscles are working harder without needing to do more exercise.

Occasionally throwing in a technique such as a drop set can help max out gains without long gym sessions too, according to Walker.

"I train for an hour tops, maybe a little longer for legs, but that's about it," he said, adding that he typically fuels up with a can of Celsius for energy before a workout.

Looking ahead to the 2024 Mr. Olympia in October, Walker said he's taking some needed time to rest before going full throttle on contest prep.

"I'm in chill mode right now, letting the body recover, not training with too much intensity," he said.

Bodybuilding is a notoriously strenuous sport and can be risky both for injuries and long-term health conditions linked to weight cycling, putting on huge amounts of mass, and the use of performance-enhancing substances like steroids.

Walker said he's careful to get medical checkups to stay healthy but won't let fear of another injury prevent him from fighting for the top honor in the sport.

"At the end of the day, you can train with the best form possible. But anything can happen," he said.

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