By:  Doug Daniels  

    One of the most popular methods lifters of all types incorporate in their training from time to time are forced reps. Forced reps can add a new level of intensity and hopefully, increased size and strength.  However, many weight trainers do not use this potentially effective method in the most logical manner.  Let's look at some common misapplications of forced reps and then some ways of using this method for better gains.

     First, let's start out with a quick explanation of this principle.  With forced reps, a lifter completes a rep of an exercise with a degree of extraneous assistance, usually from a training partner.  For example, you may get 5 reps on the bench by yourself, but on the 6th one, you get stuck half way up.  Your training partner would then grab the bar and help you just enough to complete the rep.  Of course, more reps can be done after this initial failure with more help from your partner.  By using this method, you can work past failure, adding intensity.  The amount of assistance you may need can vary from a finger to an all out lifesaving effort from every lifter in your gym.

     In hopes to further increase the benefits of forced reps, some lifters take it to extremes that are not necessarily effective and may prove to be potentially injurious.  Let's expand on the previous example.  Upon failing on the 6th rep, the lifter completes the rep with just enough help from his partner.  He continues on with more reps. With each additional rep, his training partner must lift more and more of the weight because of the lifter's rapidly accelerating fatigue, until his partner is lifting the entire weight and effectively doing an 'out of position upright row'.  This creates a potentially dangerous situation for both lifters.  The lifter himself has less and less control of the bar and could easily get hurt.  The helper must upright row the bar up from a bent forward position, which could also result in a muscle pull.  Both lifters could get fatigued or injured during this process where combined, they couldn't complete the lift and get the bar back safely in the rack.

     Another example is a lifter using a weight over his max to achieve overload and get some negative or eccentric resistance.  A lifter can max out at 250 in the bench, but loads 275 on the bar for a forced rep set.  He hopes to lower the bar slowly and, at least, get the weight going off the chest and with his partner's help, finish the rep.  After taking the bar out of the rack, he lowers the bar slowly at the top, but as it nears the mid point of its descent, the sheer weight of the bar overwhelms the lifter and crashes down to the chest.  The press or bounce up gets about 1 inch up and the helper must again upright row the bar up from a precarious position.  The helper did far more actual work then the bencher.  All this set did was soothe the ego of the lifter.  Sure, some people believe that such sets can over load the muscles involved and strengthen the ligaments and tendons so they can better handle max poundage.  There's a guy at my gym who routinely does this kind of stuff and a lot of the gym members try hard not be around when he needs help to force some reps. The guys that do help him all have big traps and strong erectors though.

     In addition, because of the intensity involved with forced reps, their use should be limited to not stress your recuperative powers.  Remember that recuperative power varies from individual to individual.  Some physical superior or steroid user might be able to push harder than you might.  A sprinkling of forced reps at times can be useful.

     I suggest reevaluating your use of forced reps if I've described what you currently practice.  If your partner does more of the lifting than you do, consider using less weight and stopping the amount of forced reps you do after reaching failure on a set.  When you feel yourself not lifting any of the weight on a force rep, stop the set.  Keep your safety and the safety of your helper in mind.  Don't try a set or rep with a weight that is just too heavy for both of you to lift.  If need be, get an extra helper or two.  If gym members scatter when you do your squats or benches, you're forcing your forced reps.


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Reproduction of this article, in whole or part, for any purposed other than personal use is prohibited without written consent. Copyright 1998 Doug Daniels.