Forced reps are one of the first techniques novice lifters experiment with in the weight room. They’re often used on the Bench Press, but they can be applied to many other exercises. They are also a popular training method among bodybuilders.
If you’re not familiar, a forced rep refers to when you’re lifting with a spotter and he helps you lift the weight when you’re totally gassed during a set so you can perform one or more additional reps after the point when you’d normally have to stop.
For example, let’s say your workout calls for three reps of Bench Press. You get under the bar, knock out two strong reps and fail halfway up the third. Your spotter provides some assistance to help you complete that rep, but you’re not done yet. You go for yet another rep where your partner assists you through the pressing portion.
That’s 1.5 forced reps, which would be impossible to perform without the assistance of a spotter.
The theory is that doing the extra forced reps adds strength and size beyond what you could achieve if you stopped when your body couldn’t handle the weight any longer.
As a lifter, it feels like forced reps are effective. They’re extremely tough, especially if your spotter knows how to provide just enough assistance to keep the weight moving while making you do most of the work.
And doing more is always better, right?
Turns out, not so much. When it comes to building strength, it appears that forced reps aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.
Chris Beardsley, of strengthandconditioningresearch.com, recently pointed to a 2007 study that shows forced reps aren’t effective for building strength.
The study looked at the effectiveness of three separate Bench Press workouts on 22 athletes. Although each group increased their max, the groups that performed more forced reps showed no significant strength gains over the group that performed fewer forced reps.
In short, forced reps are wasted reps. They’re extremely challenging and fatiguing but don’t meaningfully add strength. And the extra stress accumulated from forced reps might impair your recovery—when strength gains actually happen—and impede your progress over time.
So if you’re training for strength, stay away from forced reps. Have a target rep goal and choose a weight that’s challenging but that allows you to complete each rep with good form. If you happen to complete more reps than you planned, great! You got stronger. If you fail, stop the set and have your spotter (if you have one) pick up the weight. There’s no need to grind out more unproductive reps.
That said, forced reps might be effective for increasing size. As Beardsley points out, there’s no research that specifically looks at forced reps and building muscle. And many bodybuilders swear by forced reps for building size, which theoretically makes sense because you’re forcing your muscles to do more work.
But if strength is your goal, focus on fewer quality reps instead of many crappy reps where there’s no way to tell how much you’re actually lifting.