By Greg Merritt Flex
“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.
H.U.G.E.® FORCED REPS ROUTINE
Our HUGE® 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.
Here are the pluses of using forced reps.
- HEIGHTENED INTENSITY
Forced reps are exercise overtime. With a little help from a spotter, they allow you to keep working your targeted muscles immediately after reaching failure.
- ENHANCED SAFETY
You keep the same weight, exercise groove, and range of motion. The only difference is the spotter is removing some of the resistance. He is also hovering near you on potentially dangerous exercises like bench presses and squats, allowing you to safely go to failure and then beyond.
There are two potential pitfalls to utilizing forced reps.
- LOSS OF CONTROL
When someone assists you on reps, you’re at their mercy to remove just the right amount of stress. Hopefully, they make it neither too hard nor too easy on you. The lift should progress at the same pace as before and stay in the same groove. Use an experienced spotter.
Though a spotter provides enhanced safety, this can be a disadvantage if that person has to do too much of the work. For example, standing just behind you, he’s not going to be in a strong position to move you and the weight on a set of heavy squats if he has to do more of the work than you. Know when to stop a series of forced reps.
On certain exercises, a spotter can make the reps more difficult. We’ll call these reverse forced reps. For example, when doing pullups the spotter can put some downward pressure on your feet, making those reps harder. He can then remove the stress as the set progresses. Finally, he can provide upward pressure on your feet on the final reps. In this progression from reverse forced reps to unassisted reps to forced reps, you’re struggling throughout instead of coasting through the early reps and straining only at the end.