The first time I encountered forced reps was while working with a trainer in Sydney, Australia. I was performing my final set of barbell bicep curls and approaching muscle failure. Just as I was about to complete my last rep, the trainer grabbed the barbell with two hands and shouted for me to continue. By assisting the movement, he was lifting some of the weight for me – and so I continued to curl. As my muscles continued to reach fatigue, the trainer provided a heavier and heavier spot – and so I continued and continued and continued until he was doing most of the work.
When we finally stopped, my arms were shaking worse than the east coast earthquake. Moreover, it took me days to recover.
Needless to say, the technique is called forced reps. And while you do need the help of a trusted spotter, forced reps can be performed with many barbell exercises – most commonly, the bench press. Once you reach failure, have the spotter lift some of the weight for you. As you continue to fatigue, he lifts more and more of the weight. You can eek out an extra 20 or 30 repetitions without any rest.
The idea behind forced sets is similar to that of drop sets. By lightening the weight, you’re able to move past your initial muscle failure and eventually approach absolute muscle failure. Forced sets tear deep into muscle tissue and thus result in increased muscle growth – and they are true shock to your system.
But a word of caution: Forced reps are extremely taxing and shouldn’t be used for each set. In fact, after completing the set of forced reps in Sydney, the trainer told me that I shouldn’t do it again for several weeks. So while they’re a great muscle building technique, don’t abuse forced reps in your routine; use sparingly.