Thirty years ago Arthur Jones, the near-eccentric all-around entrepreneurial wizard and inventor of the Nautilus machine wrote: "Make an exercise harder, and you make it better." He was right. As long as you avoid injury, eat correctly and
rest appropriately, anything that makes an exercise more difficult causes the muscle to undergo more stress, creating the potential for more growth.
Thus we can say that the method of training known as forced reps, which is an excellent way to make an exercise more difficult, calls upon the muscles to work harder and, therefore, to grow larger and faster. But before we discuss the
advantages of forced reps, cast your mind back to when you first started training.
In the beginning, working out and seeing quick results was all so simple, wasn't it? Remember how easy training seemed back then? You received positive feedback from your mirror after almost every workout, and you enjoyed the experience of
each and every rep. You probably trained the whole body each workout. On three alternating days a week you would whistle through a simple program of 8 to 12 exercises for 2 to 3 sets each of 8 to 10 repetitions, and that was it. Nothing
fancy or complicated, yet you grew like a weed. For a while.
Then the gains slowed down or even stopped (sound familiar?). All of a sudden training got more difficult and complicated and much less enjoyable. No matter what you did, you never again gained quite as quickly as you did in your first few
months of training.
In desperation you tried everything: higher sets, more exercises, higher reps, lighter weights and shorter rest periods; heavier weights, lower reps, longer rest periods; four days a week training, five days a week, six days ... but nothing
seemed to work well for very long. Not even Ronnie's arm routine, Jay's chest routine, Lee's leg routine, and Haidar's ab routine, all done together, seemed to work.
"What's going on?" you asked. "What am I doing wrong?" You became frustrated and confused, and about ready to give up training altogether. Until one day, the truth hit you right between the eyes. What's needed is not more training but harder
That's what this article is all about: intensified training through extended sets and forced reps. But beware! A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. You could say that forced reps are only for the hardy and not for the foolhardy. It takes
an intelligent bodybuilder to use forced-rep training properly for optimal results. So read carefully and I'll tell you how to make forced reps work for you.
While high-intensity training and forced reps certainly have their place in everyone's regime, if overused and abused they can be too taxing to the recovery system and actually retard progress. Excessive sets of forced reps (excessive being
more than is needed to stimulate muscular growth) will lead to chronic overtraining and a halting of all gains.
In any case, the more sets of forced reps you do each workout, the fewer total sets you should do. Forced reps should be done only for the last set or two of only a few exercises. They should be done every second or third workout. This gives
the body time to recover. It is for this reason that most successful bodybuilders cycle superheavy, intense workouts with lighter, less intense ones.
Remember, while growth can sometimes be forced, more often it must be coaxed. This is where instinctive training comes in -learn to listen to your body. Do more work when you feel up to it, less work when you are truly tired. It's your body.
Only you know how you feel. You must be boss. Don't ever be bullied into doing forced reps by some heavy-duty fanatic who is standing over you screaming like a lunatic for three more reps if you don't feel up to it.
The line between training and overtraining is fine but distinct. The idea is to train just up to your personal threshold without crossing over that line. You must learn to consistently train just below your threshold tol-erance. This is a skill
that is hard-learned. Those who succeed in listening to their bodies avoid overtraining and experience continued long-term gains, while those who ignore or misinterpret the body's signals experience the frustration of no gains, the symptoms of
overtraining and often nagging injuries.
You can't let your enthusiasm to train hard and gain dominate your thinking. Dr. James Wright, renowned training expert, once wrote: "Under almost any circumstances and especially when there's doubt about how much to do, it's far better to do
less than more, both in volume and intensity. The only disadvantage to undertraining is that gains will be slower in coming. Overtraining, on the other hand, is associated with a host of negative effects, ranging from a complete stoppage or
even reversal of gains, to in-creased susceptibility to injuries and to nervous/psychological disturbances that can cause one to stop training altogether." These warnings aside, it is a fact that, used properly, forced reps and increased
training intensity develop more massive, stronger and better quality muscle.
Forced Reps and Overload
Overload means the body must be subjected to greater physical workloads than that to which it is accustomed. When you began training, any training was more than your muscles were accustomed to, so you grew quickly. The body adapts to this
unusual stress, or overload, by overcompensating; making the muscles slightly bigger and stronger to better accommodate the stress the next time it occurs. To better understand adaptation, let me quote Dr. Robert Golding, who said: "We used
to think the body was like a motor, but it isn't. If you have a 10 h.p. motor and put a 12 h.p. load on it, you'll burn the motor out. But put a 12 h.p. load on a 10 h.p. body and you'll end up with a 12h.p. body!"
Volume wise, you can only increase the number of sets and exercises you do until the Law of Diminishing Returns sets in and you start to overtrain. In other words, increasing your sets, exercises and training days puts ever-increasing overload
on your muscles, but eventually you reach a point at which the stress you put on your muscles is too much for your system to recover from. You cross over your training threshold into no-gains land. Which is why you probably didn't gain the way
you thought you would doing 15 to 20 sets per bodypart, six days a week. You burned out.
To be perfectly honest, as long as you can recover, 10 sets per bodypart is better than 9 sets and 19 sets per bodypart is better than 18, but when you reach a point when you cannot recover from your training, it's time to back off on the
volume (amount of total sets and days trained). Do fewer total sets but make each set harder and more intense. This is where forced reps come in. They stimulate the muscles without overtaxing the recovery system, as long as you use common
On the positive side, forced reps allow you to get the most out of each set by taking you beyond normal positive muscular failure and, most importantly to you as a bodybuilder, forced reps shock the muscles. This means your muscles continue to
grow because they are being forced to work harder, beyond the level to which they've grown accustomed. As the body continues to adapt to the ever-increasing levels of stress, the forced-rep method ensures you are training as intensely as you
Partner-Assisted Forced Reps
Let's talk about some of the different methods of doing forced reps and extended sets. The most popular and best-known method of doing forced reps is partner-assisted forced reps. Someone helps you to lift a weight that you temporarily cannot
lift on your own.
During a set, after you've reached a point of muscular failure (when another strict rep is impossible, despite your greatest effort), you can increase the intensity by having your training partner help you in the completion of 2 or 3 extra
reps. Your partner places a finger or two under the bar (or your elbows, depending on the exercise) to assist you just enough to make another rep possible. These sets can be brutally hard, so only 1 or 2 sets per muscle group every other workout
If you want to occasionally up your training intensity even more, you can follow your forced reps with a couple of negative-only reps. Using the barbell curl as an example, 6 reps by yourself to positive failure followed by 3 partner-assisted
forced reps to complete positive failure, followed by another 1 to 3 negatives is the ultimate in muscle fatigue and potential muscle growth. For curl negatives, your partner lifts the weight for you to what would normally be the finished
position at shoulder height, in effect doing the positive work for you. You then slowly resist the weighted bar using negative-only strength as you lower it. If the weight is too heavy for you to lower in a controlled fashion (it drops like a
rock), negative failure has been reached and the set should be terminated, as you are flirting with an injury at this point.
Forced reps need not only be done at the end of a set. You can greatly increase your training intensity by having your partner apply more resistance on the negative part of the exercise from the very first rep. Only when positive failure is
reached does he resort to the usual forced-rep technique by helping you with slight upward pressure. This method works best on exercises that are easily controlled, such as bench presses, pec-dek flyes, laterals, curls, presses behind the neck
and machine presses, as well as leg presses, leg extensions, leg curls and standing or seated calf raises.
You'll probably find that it is better to use slightly more weight than normal (10 to 20 percent more) when using forced reps, to keep your total number of reps down. If you try to do forced reps or negatives at the end of a high-rep set (15
to 20), you may reach cardiovascular failure before you reach muscular failure. For example, if you usually use 100 pounds for 10 reps (and the last rep brings you to positive failure), instead of doing your forced reps after completing 10,
use a heavier weight that brings you to failure after 6 or 7 reps and then force out 3 or 4 more to get your 10 reps.
Non-Partnered Forced Reps
If you train alone, you can train to positive failure and then cheat out a few more reps on certain exercises like curls, rows, and standing presses, resisting slowly on the negative part of the exercise. Cheating, when done correctly, is a
great way to blast past the usual sticking points in traditional movements. Just one point about cheating: Try to do as many strict reps as you can, going all-out to positive failure, then use cheating intelligently and effectively - that is,
like partner-assisted forced reps. Cheat only as much as necessary to make another rep barely possible, not to make it easier.
Another method of extended reps was made popular by the first Mr. O, Larry Scott. He did 'burns'. These are half- and quarter-movements at the end of a set of full reps taken to positive failure. Burns are especially effective when done after
cheating reps. For example, 4 to 6 reps strict, 3 to 4 cheating reps, followed by 4 to 6 burns. Believe me, you'll understand why they're called 'burns', big time.
On movements like chins and dips, you can reduce your weight by standing on a box to help squeeze out another rep or two after positive failure has been reached.
Descending Reps For Ascending Muscle Gains
Whether you train alone or with a partner, descending reps (or triple-drop training) is one of the most effective, if grueling, methods of doing extended reps. The advantage of triple-drop training is that it can be used on any exercise.
Triples are better done with a training partner (or partners) because it's safer and quicker, but they can also be utilized effectively when training alone.
Load up your barbell with smaller plates and choose a weight that will only allow between 3 and 6 strict reps, then immediately slide some plates off the bar (on a machine with a weight stack, drop the weight down 10 to 20 percent), continue to
failure, then remove more weight and go to failure for a third time. Because triple dropping is so demanding, only one or two cycles per bodypart, every other workout, is recommended. In fact, all forms of forced reps and extended reps are so
severe that I strongly recommend you start with only one forced-rep workout for each major muscle group per week. If you get a good response from that method and feel you are recovering okay, then try one set of forced reps (preferably the last
set) for one exercise per bodypart every other workout. If you still feel that you are recovering, try doing the last set of each exercise as forced reps, every other workout.
Lastly, it is important to emphasize mental attitude and toughness in regard to doing forced reps or extended sets. Let's face it. Doing forced reps hurts like hell. Your muscles will be telling you to stop, your body will want to quit, but
if you have the willpower and the mental fortitude to gut out the set to absolute and total failure, you will truly maximize the benefit.
Pain and the fear of pain prevent many trainers from maximizing their gains. You must learn to subdue the pain and associate it with something more pleasant: growth! Remember, pain means growth and without pain there is no growth. You've been
cliched to death with the "no pain, no gain" saying but it is true (and no, I don't mean joint pain). Whenever I'm doing a set and it's getting painful and I want to quit, I pretend that it is not my body doing the exercise. I pretend it's
Ronnie's biceps doing my curls, Jay's pecs doing my flyes or Lee's legs doing my squats.
Finally, remember that discretion is the better part of valor. The forced-reps method can do wonders for you but don't overdo it. This is just another tool to use to improve your body - it's up to you to decide when to use it and how much.
Listen to your body. It will give you the answers to all your questions and help you solve the riddle of how to build the body you want.