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Intensification methods -forced reps
Following on from my recent article about Myo-reps which garnered a lot of interest I wanted to elaborate upon other intensification methods that are available as part of your training arsenal. The beauty of these methods are time efficiency and effectiveness, this suits my main client demographic (businessmen).
This article will be of most benefit when read after the Myo-reps text. The understanding of the ‘Effective reps’ concept is important for correct utilisation of these techniques.
Today’s intensification method is the use of ‘forced reps’. Are they worthwhile?
What are forced reps
For those at an advanced stage of training and looking to add muscle, forced reps have long been considered an appropriate tool. These reps keep sustained muscular tension past the point you couldn’t usually continue. Thereby increasing time-under-tension (TUT) and maximising muscle fibre recruitment.
Be aware, like all intensification methods these can cause great discomfort. Once a muscle has all its fibres recruited at a moderate to high rep range and is in the process of muscular failure it feels like the muscle is burning from within. This is due to lactic acid accumulation and is very painful.
Forced reps purely for muscle gain-Maybe
Muscle building (hypertrophy) requires both an intensity (proximity to failure at a given % of 1RM (1 rep max)) and a volume component (Fink et al 2017). Muscle can be built across a wide range of reps but they need to be at a sufficiently challenging load to provide the appropriate stimulus. The correct ‘balance’ of volume and intensity/load is where intensification methods such as forced reps are perceived to show their worth.
It is worth noting at this point that there is little scientific research to back up the muscular hypertrophy claims of forced reps. Of course, until such studies are done it also isn’t disproven.
There is every reason to believe forced reps could be a viable (if not painful!) muscle hypotrophy protocol. Training past failure certainly maximises full muscle fibre activation, muscular tension and metabolic stress, all of these are proven stimulus for muscular growth. Anecdotally a number of top bodybuilders and fitness coaches also swear by their effectiveness.
However, notwithstanding the above, forced reps do not achieve anything above other intensification methods and do seem to have more potential negatives.
Forced reps purely for strength gain- Bad idea
As discussed although there is little research to back up forced reps for muscle growth we do hypothesis that it has some effect, at least to a minor degree.
However, forced rep use for strength development has been researched in slightly more depth. One such study showed that after a 6 month training period the group performing forced reps on the bench press had no significant difference in results from the control group not utilising this method (Drinkwater et al 2007). It does however have the drawback of exhausting a muscle and quite possibly hindering later sets, thereby potentially indirectly hampering strength gain.
How are these performed?
Like anything, there is a right way and a wrong way. Firstly you need a training partner or a trainer. You then continue to perform a few reps after failure by having your partner spot you through your ‘sticking-point’.
(A sticking point is the position within a lift that you cannot get past once muscle failure sets in, it will be in a different place in different exercises and is essentially the point throughout the range of motion (ROM) where the muscle provides insufficient contractile force to keep the rep progressing. For further reading research strength curves.)
The spotter should be well versed on your particular sticking point and only offer minimal assistance here to keep the rep progressing.
Also of note is that it should only be on the concentric portion of the lift (the part where the muscle contracts and shortens). Eccentric training, whereby you restrict/slow the weight going back to its rest positon as the muscle lengthens is another method to be discussed separately.
People doing forced reps from the start of the set. This is pointless as at no stage have you already maximised muscle recruitment through fatigue.
Forced reps being used too early in a training session. Done on an early exercise within a given body part split will fatigue said muscle prematurely. This will devalue the work still to follow. Remember that volume is also a muscle growth driver so we don’t want to prematurely reduce this. Ensure you keep forced reps on the last set or two for a particular muscle group.
People using forced reps inappropriately, too frequently or with too much volume. This is tool that can ‘bury’ you. By essentially annihilating the muscle you may prevent compensation and potentially enter a state of over-reaching. You will also maximise injury risk for very little gain, with the added bonus of going backwards should that occur.
People training intensely and using forced reps correctly, yet not maximising rest, recovery and nutrition. A good topic for another day I feel.
Forced reps are an advanced intensification method that can potentially assist muscle hypertrophy or help to break through a training plateau. The science to fully confirm its worth is lacking but some claim great success with it.
Whilst it MAY help build muscle I consider other methods at least equally effective and with less drawbacks. Any good trainer should be able to advise appropriately.
If you do pursue this avenue, it is important to use forced reps sparingly and within a robust rest and recovery framework or they may well work against you.
One should also remember that this technique is only a small piece of the jigsaw when building a physique and isn’t to be relied upon long-term. Overuse can occur easily.
For strength gains this method seems largely ineffective and not worth pursuing.
I hope you enjoyed this article. If so, please give this a share on social media or drop me a comment/like.
Drinkwater E, Lawton TW, Mckenna MJ, Lindsell RP. Increased number of forced repetitions does not enhance strength development with resistance training. J Strength Cond Res.2007; Aug; 21(3):841-7.
Fink J, Schoenfeld BJ, Kikuchi N, Nakazato K. Effects of drop set resistance training on acute stress indicators and long-term muscle hypertrophy and strength. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2017;26.
Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(10):2857-72.