Forced Reps Should Be a Way to Make a Set Harder – Not Easier!

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.

Bodybuilders aren’t strong? Watch Tom Platz squat 500 pounds (227.5 kilos) for 23 reps

Here’s some footage from what I personally consider to be the golden era of bodybuilding. One of the real bodybuilding icons of the eighties, Tom Platz, was an absolute monster when it came to both leg strength and size. Watch him complete 23 reps with 500 pounds on the bar:

Tom Platz – also known as The Golden Eagle – never won any of the absolute biggest titles in bodybuilding (probably due to the fact that he never had the most symmetrical build out there), but for someone like me, who got into the sport in the eighties, his still remains one of the key bodybuilding names of all time – much having to do with his rather insane leg mass, of course. He did come quite close to taking the biggest bodybuilding trophy of all home with him in 1981, though, when he placed third in that years Mr Olympia contest. He also won an honorary Mr America title in 1995. In 1978, he also took home the Amateur World Championship title. Tom Platz retired from bodybuilding in 1987, and has since done loads of different stuff, including acting and – some say – worked as a private investigator (I’d like to have that confirmed, but no luck as of yet). No doubt an all time bodybuilding great and living legend, Tom Platz is currently a Professor and Director of Bodybuilding Sciences at the International Sports Sciences Association. He lives with wife Cha (whom he married in September 2000) in Scottsdale Arizona. If I’m ever there, I’ll be sure to look him up and shake his hand – he is one of my original bodybuilding inspirations, and more than anyone he certainly inspired me to give it all on the leg press machine when I first started lifting back around the time he retired from the sport (I had yet to realized the superiority of squats, but hey, I’ll never forget how that leg press machine made me feel!)

14 Bodybuilding tips for beginners

If you’re starting out in bodybuilding, there’s one thing you need to get clear before almost anything else: You probably have a lot to learn if you want to be truly successful. Don’t get me wrong; bodybuilding isn’t necessarily complicated and you don’t need a university degree to do this stuff right, but there’s probably a lot more to this stuff than you think, and if you haven’t yet started acquiring good knowledge on the subject, now is the time to do so. To set you off on a good start, we have compiled a bunch of tips especially targeted at beginners (and in many cases equally applicable to people who have been at it for a long tim). Enjoy!

  1. Rome was not built in a day. Bodybuilding takes time – a very long time, in fact. A Beverly Hills mansion usually takes a lot shorter time to build than a great body. If you want to succeed at this stuff, put in the work day in a day out, week after week, month after month and year after year, and don’t worry so much about how long it takes. If you’re just starting out you’ll see measurable results in a short time, and if you keep doing things right you’ll get GREAT results somewhere down the road. Be patient. It’s worth it, trust me.
  2. Make injury prevention one of your primary concerns. Seriously. Don’t trivialize that stuff – you’ll regret it sooner than you think, and perhaps for a lot longer than you think too. If you train in a way that will get you injured, remember that you probably will NOT be able to train properly – or at all – when you ARE injured. Injuries are going to mess with the results you get. Train safely and correctly – at ALL times.
  3. Focus your training on becoming stronger in the big exercises. Many, if not most, of today’s top bodybuilders started out lifting for strength and power. A program like 5×5 can be absolutely fantastic for beginners, helping them gain strength and mass and giving them a solid foundation for even more mass down the road. Besides, it’s fun to lift more than others at the gym, and that will probably motivate you to keep going there! Focus on the major exercises like bench presses, bent over rows, standing presses, squats and deadlifts. Get super strong in those while eating like a mad man, and you WILL get bigger.
  4. Free weights is the way to go, not machines. Free weights offer a range of advantages of machines, so focus your training around free weight exercises. Sometimes, beginners are adviced to use machines “because they are safer than free weights.” That kind of advice is stupid. Start using free weights from day one, and you’re LESS likely to get injured down the road than if you start out using just machines.
  5. Learn how to perform every exercise perfectly. This will not only help you stay injury free, but will also help you get faster and better results from your efforts. Have someone at the gym help you learn the exercises properly – someone who is NOT a fellow beginner.
  6. Oftentimes, less is more. Doing more won’t always help you get more. For instance, many find that when they reduce their training load, they get better results. Shorter workouts are generally much better than long ones – I usually spend around 45 minutes in the gym at a time, and never 90-120 minutes like I sometimes did in the past.
  7. A whole body routine three times per week will be better than most split routines. For beginners (and in many cases more experienced bodybuilders too) a whole body routine done three times per week will be hard to beat. When you’re starting out, you don’t need to blast your muscles with tons of sets to get results. Perform as little as 2-3 sets per body part, and you’ll be able to hit the gym again 48 hours later – which is actually ideal given what we know about protein synthesis as a response to exercise.
  8. The kitchen is as important as the gym! What happens in the kitchen is of crucial concern to your bodybuilding success. You have to eat correctly – and probably eat a lot too – if you want to get big and muscular. Simply put: that means getting ample amounts of protein throughout the day, sufficient amounts of ALL vital nutrients (yes, even the “boring” vitamins and minerals need to be watched!), plenty of clean food, and lots of carbs (particularly after training) and good fats. Typical bodybuilding food includes clean meat, fish, protein supplements, rice, various vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts and seeds and on. Make an effort to learn all you can about food, and apply it. Correct eating is vital to your success.
  9. Sleep and rest – get plenty of both. Your muscles do not grow in the gym (even though it may seem that way when you have a great “pump”), they grow when you rest and sleep. Get at least 8 hours of quality sleep every night (in fact, make great sleep one of you your priorities in life, it’ll do you good in more ways than you can count) and make sure you get plenty of sleep
  10. Keep a training journal from day one – or, at least, from today! Keeping track of what you’re doing is going to be of immense help down the road. Write down everything you do in the gym, and – if you have the time for it (I must admit, I sometimes don’t) – everything else that’s relevant, like diet, what’s going on in your life right now (stress etc), number of hours slept, any illnesses and so on.
  11. Understand that the best advice rarely come from the biggest guy at the gym. Many beginners make the mistake of assuming that the biggest (or most well trained) person at the gym automatically also knows the most about training and nutrition and everything else that relates to bodybuilding. In our experience, that is rarely the case. There are plenty of reasons why someone would get absolutely huge without being qualified to help you do the same, and these include – but are not limited to – a superb genetic make up, drug use and so on. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should ask some Woody Allen lookalike for help either, even if they claim to be an expert on the subject. Instead, get a feel for who knows their stuff by looking both at the results they’re getting AND their reputation as a good source of information.
  12. Keep a relaxed attitude towards sports supplements. Many bodybuilders focus WAY too much on supplements, something which probably does more harm than good. After all, supplements can only give you so much, and if you focus too much on something that doesn’t matter all that much, it probably means that some other area is going to suffer because it gets too little focus. Sure, use some supplements like multi vitamins and protein powders and whatever else you may need or be deficient in, but don’t go overboard on the stuff – there’s no need to, and it probably won’t help much either, at least not at this point.
  13. Don’t train like the pros. One crucial mistake many beginners make is to try and emulate what the pros do in the gym – which doesn’t work very well at all. You may think you’re doing something smart, but instead you’re going to look like a complete clown to anyone who has a clue, and your results will suffer too. Pros can train the way they do because they have years and decades of training behind them, absolutely exceptional genes, and probably a helpful pharmacist as well. This is probably not the case with you, so your training probably needs to be different from most of the dudes on the cover of Flex Magazine.
  14. Get a good training partner. Having a good training partner can be a fantastic aid to your bodybuilding success. Find someone who is (ideally) more experienced than you, positive, dependable (if they miss a workout, chances of you missing one may increase substantially) knowledgeable and willing to push you on a consistent basis so that you reach your goals.