The crux of the matter is this: your body will always try to take the easiest route, by design. It prefers the status quo, and if given the chance, it clings to it. A prime example: muscle growth. To increase the size of your arms, for instance, you have to give your body a convincing reason to expend energy on growing bigger, stronger pipes. This means progressively challenging it with bigger weights and harder workouts.
The progressively heavier part is easy to grasp – using larger dumbbells, stacking more plates onto the bar, grinding out a few more reps and so on. But when it comes to intensifying our gym sessions — finding that harder part, intelligently and safely— things get a little foggy.
Research indicates that for optimal muscle growth, we must edge our muscles closer and closer to the brink of muscular failure, the point where squeezing out another repetition is impossible. In fact, studies suggest that sets and movements that stop short of this threshold by 3-5 reps barely even influence muscle growth. In real terms, if you drop the dumbbells at 10 reps with a weight you could likely have managed 15 with, you're falling shy of the 'growth zone’.
If you’re unsure whether you're truly pushing your muscles to their limits and don’t want to leave anything up to chance, employing occasional 'intensifiers' can put your mind at ease, even if they have the opposite effect on your body. These specialised techniques are designed to lead you to — and beyond — the point of failure, so they should be treated with reverence and used sparingly. We recently dished up the goods on drop-sets, now let’s take a look at another technique that promises a primo pump: forced reps.
What Are Forced Reps?
The forced-reps technique involves taking your set to absolutely failure, before your training partner comes in to assist you in achieving further reps, beyond failure. Although from the outside looking in, this type of behaviour can look like pure ego lifting — enlisting your fellow bro to help you shift weights that you can’t lift alone — really and truly this is just a spin on the drop-set technique, which actually allows for a little bit more fine tuning.
If executed correctly, your training partner will assist you just enough to perform another rep, and another, another… adding slightly more assistance as you go and ensuring that each rep is pushing you to the absolute limits. Continue until your partner’s doing the lion’s share of the work, at which point you pull the plug.
As with other advanced bodybuilding techniques on this list, use forced reps diligently. One or two sets taken right to the end of the line using this method are more than adequate to secure those gains.
How Do I Perform Forced Reps?
Let us talk you through it:
You’re on rep nine of your top set of dumbbell shoulder presses, you press the weights back up but they slow to a halt just above your head. At that point, your partner steps in, placing his hands under your elbows and gently gives you just the extra nudge you need to take the ‘bells to full lockout.
You lower them back to your shoulders under your own steam, but they’ll barely budge an inch. Now, your partner gives you the assistance you need to keep them moving, increasing the assistance one rep at a time until you’re totally spent, in the truest sense of the word.
Example of Forced Reps in a Workout
Set 1: 12 reps @ 60kg
Set 2: 10 reps @ 80kg
Set 3: 10 reps @ 80kg
Set 4: 8 reps @ 90kg
Set 5: 5 reps @ 100kg (partner adds light assistance to reach 7 reps, you lower the bar slowly for rep 8 but your partner has to majorly assist in completing the rep and racking the bar)
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