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Cheaters never prosper—so goes the cliché.
Of course, as anyone who used a crib sheet or wandering eye to ace a test knows, it’s a lie meant to discourage. Bad cheaters don’t prosper. Good cheaters do—if they know when and how to do it, and if they do it only occasionally. This month, we offer a crib sheet to exercise cheating. By loosening your form only to expand sets beyond strict-form failure, you can up the intensity of your workouts and increase their effectiveness. Most exercises shouldn’t be cheated, and most reps shouldn’t be cheated, but if you study our lesson plan you’ll learn how to use this valuable technique to cheat your way to bodybuilding prosperity.
This should be simple. Cheating, in relation to exercise, refers to loose form. There are two reasons to loosen your exercise form: to make a set easier (the wrong reason) or to make a set harder (the right reason). Things grow complicated because the boundary between those two reasons is frequently murky.
Bodybuilders cheat too soon in a set or they cheat on an exercise where bad form merely increases the odds of injury. First, cheating is always a technique for increasing intensity. Therefore, it should be used only after reaching full-rep failure with proper form. At that point—but never before that point—you loosen your form to incorporate secondary muscles and eke out an additional few reps. In this way, cheat reps function like forced reps, with the key difference being you can cheat those extra reps by yourself without the helping hands of a spotter.
Second, cheating should never be done on most exercises. The safest way to cheat is to add some sway to the movement via your legs and lower back. Therefore, cheating is best applied to standing shoulder, biceps, and triceps exercises. You can also add some extra lower-back movement to the end of sets of rows and pulldowns but don’t overdo it. As for chest, abs, and legs, every exercise for these body parts should be performed with strict form.
Bouncing the bar off your chest during bench presses or springing your hamstrings off your calves at the bottom of hack squats are two examples of misguided cheating that merely increase the odds of tears and sprains.
Here are the pluses using looser workout form.
There are two potential pitfalls to cheating to extend sets.
Now that we’ve established the rule that you should cheat only to push a set beyond strict, full-rep failure, we’re going to break it. There is another way that follows the same principle but incorporates sets of only cheat reps. Pre-exhaust a muscle with sets of strict reps and then follow with sets of cheat reps. For example, for biceps you could do preacher curls and seated dumbbell curls each for four sets of 10–12 strict reps. Then ﬁnish off bi’s with barbell cheat curls for four sets of 6–8 “momentum reps.” Because you’ve already targeted your bi’s with eight strict sets before the ﬁnal four loose sets, most of the stress of the barbell curls will still be focused on your pre-exhausted bi’s. FLEX