This is why forced reps are so effective. By assisting, a spotter makes reps easier, and yet 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 with forced reps will feel anything but easy, even as helping hands lessen the resistance. Such bodybuilding legends as Dorian Yates, Mike Mentzer, and Tom Platz tacked forced reps on to most working sets. They knew, but so do millions of others. Forced reps are one of the most effective methods for blowing through stop signs and barreling into the pain (and growth) zone.

EFFECTIVE FORCED REPS 

“Assisted reps” would be a more accurate name than “forced reps,” but the latter at least 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 she should apply only enough pressure so you can continue to move the weight at the same pace as before. Forced reps have been shown to spark a greater increase of testosterone and growth hormone than maximum effort reps that end at failure, and this alone can spark more strength and muscle growth.

The key to effective forced reps is the transfer of resistance from your muscles to the spotter’s so the reps are neither too hard, nor 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.

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).

forced reps
Pro bodybuilder Tom Platz in the ’80s got help pushing sets way beyond failure.

REVERSE FORCED REPS 

A spotter can also make reps more difficult. These reverse forced reps are effective during the earliest stage of a set. Usually, the first reps serve as precursors, tiring you out before the real growth-inducers at the end. But, if a spotter makes them harder, you can do maximum-effort reps from the get-go and create a sort of drop set wherein resistance is lessened throughout the set.

For example, when doing pullups, the spotter can apply downward pressure to your feet, making reps harder. He can then remove stress as the set advances until you’re doing reps by yourself. Then, as you begin to struggle, he can provide upward pressure on your feet, relieving increasingly more resistance on the final reps. In this progression from reverse forced to unassisted to forced, you’re using maximum resistance from the first rep to the last, instead of coasting through the early stage and only straining at the end.

FORCED REPS BASICS

🔸 The spotter should remove stress from reps only when you’ve reached the verge of failing on your own.

🔸 Just enough resistance is removed so you can move the weight at the same pace as before.

🔸 The key to effective forced reps is the transfer of the bare minimum amount of work from you to the spotter.

🔸 When the spotter does more of the work than you, the set should end.

FORCED REPS TIP SHEET

🔸 Not all exercises lend themselves to forced reps. Deadlifts, and lunges are two that can’t be effectively hand-assisted.

🔸 Reverse forced reps are when the spotter applies extra pressure to make reps harder, such as pushing down on the bar during pulldowns. The spotter can make the resistance heavier and then lighter on the same set.

🔸 On unilateral arm exercises, you can do forced reps by using your resting hand to provide just enough pressure to your working arm to keep the weight moving.

TRICEPS FORCED REPS ROUTINE

EXERCISE        SETS x REPS + FORCED REPS

Pushdown          4 x 8 + 2-4

Machine Dip          4 x 8 + 2-4      

Lying Triceps Extension          4 x 8 + 2-4

Resource: Ahtiainen, J. P., Pakarinen, A., Kraemer, W. J., & Häkkinen, K. (2003), “Acute hormonal and neuromuscular responses and recovery to forced vs. maximum repetitions multiple resistance exercises,” International Journal of Sports Medicine, 24(06), 410-418.