Training Style: Forced Reps

Forced reps make a set harder by making it easier.


Pavel Ythjall

There's a conundrum with forced reps, and it’s the key to their effectiveness. By assisting, a spotter makes reps easier, but by making them easier, he makes the set harder. It’s all a matter of perspective. When you’re under the iron and you can’t eke out another rep on your own, continuing onward with forced reps will feel anything but easy, even as helping hands lessen the resistance. Forced reps are one of the most effective methods for blowing through stop signs and barreling into the pain (and growth) zone.


“Assisted reps” would be a more accurate name than “forced reps,” but the latter captures the feeling you might get when just enough resistance is removed for your set to continue beyond your normal limits. You’re forced to keep going. Failure is not an option. And that brings us to the first and most important thing to know about this technique: It’s exercise overtime. A spotter should assist you only when you’re on the verge of failing, and he should apply only enough pressure so you can continue to move the weight at the same pace as before.

The key to effective forced reps is the transfer of resistance from your muscles to his so the reps are not too hard or too easy but just right, progressing at the same pace as all preceding reps and within the same groove. (For this reason, a regular training partner, who should know your strength, is the ideal spotter.) On each subsequent forced rep, more stress will need to be removed. If, after reaching failure at eight reps, your spotter helps just enough for you to grind out four more, you’ll understand that forced is an appropriate adjective, after all.

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As with cheating, forced reps don’t work with all exercises. Deadlifts, lunges, and barbell rows are among the ones where it’s impractical for someone to assist. The good news is that forced reps can be used with some exercises you should never cheat, including most lifts for chest (such as incline presses, dumbbell flyes, and dips) and many for legs (including squats, hack squats, and leg presses). Sometimes, as in the case of squats, the spotter should hover closely behind you, simulating your movements. Other times, as with hack squats, he stands to one side and pulls up on a weight sleeve.


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