Here’s one of the silly things most of us are forced to bear witness to in the gym on an all to regular basis: Some kid (or adult beginner) lies down to do a set of bench presses. His training partner stands over him, ready to help him squeeze out a few more extra reps by pulling lightly at the bar when the trainee can’t performa another repetition unassisted. That is, after all, what the spotter should be there for: to extend the set beyond it’s normal range of repetitions, and make the set harder than the trainee could possibly do on his own. However, what tends to happen instead is this: The trainee performs a few reps, and then – before any sign that the trainee is actually reaching momentary muscular failure - the idiot spotter starts pulling at the bar. The result, of course, is that the spotter gets some unscheduled trapezius work done, while ruining the bench pressers set. The bench presser never had to perform even one really hard rep on his own. Bummer. It happens in gyms across the globe every single day.
How to Actually Perform a Set of Forced Reps Properly
A properly performed set of forced reps can be a great way to extend a set and make an exercise harder. It is performed like this: The bench presser performs eight reps. By himself. By the time his arms finally straighten out on that last rep, it should be abundantly clear that he is struggling, and that the likelihood of another unassisted rep is close to slim and none. And when he lowers the bar on for the ninth rep, he is unable to get it all the way back up again. This is where the spotter steps in. Not before. The spotter starts giving his friend just enough help to squeeze out another two to five repetitions, and they rack the bar.
The trainee has just completed an extremely intense set of bench presses. So intense, in fact, that it would be silly to attempt it too often. However, had the spotter stepped in too early and started pulling at the bar while the trainee was still able to finish reps on his won, the use of the forced reps technique would have had the opposite effect of what was intended: It would have been an easier set to perform than a normal, straight set of just 8 reps.
Don’t Ruin Things for Your Training Partner
So attention, spotters out there: Let your training partner do as many reps as he can before you start messing with his set. If you start pulling at the bar when he is still able to complete the rep on his own you are standing in the way of the results he’s after. Don’t give help where help is not needed.
Just to be clear, we’re just talking forced reps here. The same rules don’t apply if, say, one is doing a set of negatives. And we’re not just talking about about forced reps when bench pressing, of course. The bench press is just a good example, because of the fact certain individuals get up to so much silly stuff when benching; the misuse of forced reps is just one thing. Stuff like using the suicide grip and using two spotters, with one on each side of the bar (doing so may on occasion actually be a necessity, but it can create serious balancing problems) is potentially dangerous, and thus even sillier. While misusing a technique like forced reps can lead to lackluster results, it obviously doesn’t hold a candle to what injuring yourself seriously can do.