WHAT IS IT?
Forced Reps are a method in which a set can be taken beyond failure through the strategic aid of a spotter.
After reaching technical failure, have a partner apply just enough assistance to keep the concentric and eccentric tempo consistent. Depending on the exercise, trainee’s proficiency, and other variables, between 1-5 forced reps may be applicable.
HOW TO TRACK PROGRESSION?
Ideally, we would be able to track the amount of assistance given by the partner. However, there is no way of doing this accurately which makes long-term tracking of Forced Reps a nearly impossible task. The best solution is to account for load used, rep that technical failure is achieved, and the number of forced reps added—with the goal of increasing the total volume load over time.
WHO SHOULD USE IT?
Only those who are able to safely push sets to failure without compromising technique can benefit from this technique. Forced Reps are most applicable for the advanced crowd and potentially some higher-level intermediates. Trainees who are sensitive to volume but can handle intensity well should consider using Forced Reps as a way to drive progress in specific phases—advanced athletes who are on the right side of the bell curve for strength would be an example.
WHO SHOULD NOT USE IT?
If a trainee has not fully exhausted sub-maximal training, experiences technical breakdowns when approaching failure and/or has trouble recovering from extremely high intensity training then they should use forced reps sparingly, if at all. It should also go without saying that beginners should steer clear of Forced Reps.
WHEN TO USE IT?
The culminating overloading weeks of a training block (right before a deload) is the only time that it would make sense to implement Forced Reps. If utilized too early, tracking of progression will be muddied and unnecessary fatigue will be generated.
Forced Reps can be a useful tool to use in high-intensity phases or when strength acquisition is a primary goal (as long as systemic fatigue is managed and risk is averted)
WHEN NOT TO USE IT?
When sub-maximal intensity can still be leveraged for progress within the training block (acclimation weeks), pushing beyond failure with Forced Reps is unneeded and can actually be a hindrance to long-term progress.
Forced Reps should be a consistent feature and source of intensity ONLY in phases of low-to-moderate volume. High volume and Forced Reps are NOT a good combo.
HOW TO USE IT?
Variations that have relatively few degrees of freedom and allow for failure to be achieved safely will always be the best candidates to apply forced reps. Machine and barbell movements tend to translate the best, but some DB variations work as well (DB presses) despite the increased instability; though, the increased risk of the latter is hard to overlook.
On the topic of risk, Forced Reps are going to be one of the most dangerous intensity techniques we will cover due to the high loads and supra-maximal intensities. Some of these threats can be mitigated by minimizing axial-loading, implementation of proper safety precautions, and using movements that are “mobility agnostic”.
In general, Forced Reps are going to be extremely fatiguing and affect all subsequent performance. So is should be understood (and planned for) that any work after use of Forced Reps in a training session will be degraded to some extent. It is this reason that implementing them early in a training block—or haphazardly at ANY point—can be so negatively impactful.
The most crucial variable with forced reps is going to be the spotter. Their job is to provide just enough assistance to safely maintain the path of motion through both the concentric AND eccentric. Too little assistance and the velocity will slow too rapidly. Too much assistance and the demand on the working muscles drops off too steeply. As a rule of thumb, try to reduce the pressure on your spotter by selecting variations that allow a bit more leeway and auto-correction on their part (i.e. Machine Press > Barbell Press).
1)Machine Chest Press- 2 sets to failure with ~10RM and 2 forced reps after the last set
2)Hack Squat- 1 set to failure with ~12RM and 3 forced reps
3)Machine Preacher Curls- 3x10-12 (1RIR) with the last set taken to failure and 3 forced reps added ONLY to the last
HOW NOT TO USE IT?
The more unstable the movement, the more unsuitable it will be for pushing beyond failure with Forced Reps. Some exercises are also biomechanically and logistically poor choices for using this technique. In general, we should avoid any movements that cannot be safely taken to failure or those with dependencies outside of the target muscles’ contractile abilities.
Additionally, there are a multitude of ways that the spotter can incorrectly do their job. They should avoid providing excessive assistance during the concentric, allowing the motion to halt to an isometric, or releasing during the eccentric.
1)Barbell Bent Over Rows- Logistically infeasible for Forced Reps
2)Barbell Squats- Too much axial loading and risk; Also unrealistic from the perspective of the spotter
3)DB Laterals- Too unstable and too many dependencies (When I see this in real life, I cringe)
BENEFITS OF THE TECHNIQUE:
-Momentary failure points are able to be exceeded to accumulate additional effective reps
-Extremely high intensity may be a catalyst for additional hypertrophy/strength in advanced athletes that have exhausted all other methods
-Very simple from a setup and execution perspective (at least, for the trainee but not the spotter)
-Can teach the athlete how to properly “strain”
DRAWBACKS OF THE TECHNIQUE:
-Risk of injury is VERY high even for seasoned trainees
-Fatigue is likely generated exponentially as we approach failure so forced reps can expedite local overreaching and systemic under-recovery
-Inability to accurately track progressions
-Heavy dependence on competent spotter
-Limited scope of use
-Potential for abuse is very high when the ego kicks in