How and When to Use Forced Reps

Grab a spotter to keep sets going and your muscles growing.

WANTED: Spotter 

REQUIREMENTS: Reliability, compatibility, encouraging disposition. Must know how to take away just enough on forced reps.

Bodybuilding may be the most individualistic of all sports, but sometimes you can benefit from pairing up. Whether you work out with a training partner or simply ask for a spotter on occasion, one of the most valuable assets a “teammate” provides is the ability to extend your sets beyond failure by assisting on forced reps. This month we examine the one Weider Principle you can’t do alone. A little help from a spotter can
 keep sets going and your muscles growing.

At first blush, the name “forced reps” seems wrong. “Reduced reps” might be more appropriate. After all, when a spotter assists with forced reps, he removes resistance from your muscles and transfers it to his. But let’s break it down. Forced reps should be performed only when you reach failure. Then, the spotter assists just enough so that you can continue to move the weight at the same pace as before. The key to effective forced reps is the transfer of just the right amount of resistance but no more. On each subsequent forced rep, more stress will need to be removed. When the spotter is doing more work than you, the set should end. If, after reaching failure at eight reps, your spotter helps just enough for you to grind out four more torturous reps, you’ll understand that “forced” seems an appropriate adjective, after all.

As with cheating, forced reps should not be applied to all exercises. Deadlifts, barbell rows, and lunges are among the exercises it’s simply impractical for a spotter to be in position to assist on. The good news is that forced reps can be used with some exercises you should never cheat, including most lifts for chest and legs, such as bench presses and flyes and various forms of squats and leg presses. The spotter simply needs to know where to best position himself to help move the weight.


Our triceps forced reps routine illustrates how forced reps can be applied to a variety of exercises. The first, close-grip bench presses, is the easiest for the spotter. He stands behind the bencher and simply lifts up on the bar to relieve pressure.
 With lying triceps extensions, he’ll need to help move the weight both up and forward in a semi-arc. Finally, with pushdowns, the spotter can either push down on the exerciser’s hands, pull down on the cable, or lift up on the weight stack—all three methods require careful focus to remove just the right amount of stress on forced reps.


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