Forced reps are one of the most effective bodybuilding training methods ever invented. Many of the world’s top bodybuilders such as Dorian Yates, Marc Dugdale and Stan Efferding have used forced reps as a core part of their training program.
Forced reps are a high-intensity training technique where your training spotter helps you complete 1-3 extra reps after you reach muscular failure. Your spotter could help you lift the bar on a set of bench presses or push up under your elbows on a set of incline dumbbell presses to help you complete the extra forced reps.
Here is a video of Dorian Yates performing forced reps on the Nautilus pullover machine. Check it out:
Talk about high-intensity training! Dorian performs 5 reps on his own followed by 3 forced reps with the help of his training spotter.
Forced reps are called a high-intensity technique because they let you train beyond failure to create as much muscle damage as possible in just one set. Forced reps have many advantages over traditional “straight sets” for building muscle:
The 5 Benefits Of Forced Reps
- They are a form of eccentric training!
- They build size and strength simultaneously!
- They increase your training density!
- They force you to train hard!
- They simplify your training program!
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you exactly why forced reps are so effective for building muscle and how to incorporate them into your own training program. Now let’s get down to business…
Forced Rep Benefit #1: They Are A Form Of Eccentric Training!
The biggest advantage of forced reps is they are a form of eccentric training! In other words, forced reps help you to overload the eccentric or the lowering phase of your exercise.
We know from research and real-world experience that the lowering phase of an exercise is what builds the most muscle mass and strength. With forced reps you have a chance to overload the lowering phase of your exercises so you can build even more muscle mass and strength!
Here is the forced reps expert Dorian Yates talking about why it is so important to use forced reps to overload the lowering phase of your exercises:
I couldn’t have said it any better myself! On your forced reps your training partner should give you just enough help to lift the weight all the way to lockout. Then you should lower the weight down using a nice controlled tempo.
I want you to think of your muscles as giant breaks that are trying to slow the weight down on the lowering phase of your forced reps. The more slowly you can lower the weight down the more tension you will create in your muscles.
On your last rep you should feel like you can barely control the weight on the way down. That means you have reached failure on both the concentric phase and the eccentric phase. Now THAT is a powerful stimulus for muscle growth!
Forced Rep Benefit #2: They Build Size And Strength Simultaneously!
One of the big reasons that forced reps are so effective is they help you build muscle mass and strength at the same time. Everyone knows that high rep sets in the 6-20 rep range are best for building muscle and low rep sets in the 1-5 rep range are best for building strength.
Forced reps are great because you can build strength while training in the higher rep ranges. This means you can use forced reps to build muscle mass AND strength all at the same time! The only other training method that lets you build size and strength while training with higher reps is rest-pause sets.
Just take a look at the following video of Stan Efferding performing forced reps on the incline dumbbell press:
First Stan completes 8 hard reps on his own. Then his training partner helps him perform an extra 4 forced with some help from his training partner.
Stan is building a lot of muscle mass with this set because he is completely exhausting his muscles. However, he is also building strength because the extra negative reps fatigue his central nervous system and teach his body to recruit more muscle fibers.
With forced reps you don’t have to worry about including high-rep sets and low-rep sets into your training program. You can build size and strength at the same time with this superior training method!
Forced Rep Benefit #3: They Increase Your Training Density!
Research shows that your testosterone levels peak about 45 minutes into a workout and rapidly decline after the 60 minute mark. For optimal results you want to keep your workouts to 60 minutes or less.
Forced reps are awesome because they increase your training density. In other words they help you perform a lot of high-quality work in a very short period of time.
Dorian Yates was a big believer in these shorter workouts. Even when he was training for the Mr. Olympia competition he never trained for more than an hour. Just take a look at Dorian Yates’ back workout:
Dorian Yates’ Back Workout
- A1: Nautilus machine pullover, 1 x 6 + 3 forced reps, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Bilateral hammer strength machine pulldown (supinated grip), 1 x 6 + 2 forced reps, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed
- C1: Standing barbell row to knees, 1 x 6, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- D1: Seated unilateral machine row, 1 x 5 + 2 forced reps, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
- E1: Bent-over rear delt machine, 1 x 11, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- F1: Bent over rear-delt DB flies, 1 x 8, 1/0/1/0, rest as needed
- G1: 90 degree back extension (BB on back), 1 x 10, 2/0/1/1, rest as needed
- H1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 6, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
Dorian was able to perform all 8 exercises in less than an hour! If he performed multiple sets for each exercise then this would be impossible. However, by using forced reps he was able to build muscle with just one working set per exercise. Now THAT is a time-efficient way to train!
Stan Efferding is another professional bodybuilder who really believes in these shorter workouts.
Stan liked to perform 40-minute workouts for larger muscle groups like back and 30-minute workouts for smaller muscle groups like arms. He felt these short workouts maximized his recovery and helped him to train progressively over time.
There are many ways to increase your training density and get more high-quality work done in less time. However, forced reps are one of your best options.
Forced Rep Benefit #4: They Force You To Train Hard!
Most people in the gym don’t train hard enough. They are too afraid to really push themselves on any of their sets.
How hard should you train? Harder than last time! Greg Doucette sounds a little bit silly when he says this but he’s right! If you perform 20 sets per body part but don’t push yourself on any of those sets then you’re not training, you’re just pretending.
One of the best ways to make progress is to really push yourself on a handful of sets per workout. Stan Efferding calls these “growth sets.” Here is Stan talking about the importance of training hard:
“You need to go to failure, you need to have some forced reps, you need to just go all out and take your body some place it’s never been before so it has to adapt and become bigger and stronger. Everything else is minuscule in comparison.”
Forced reps are so effective because they force you to train hard on a smaller number of sets. If you perform a set of 8 reps to failure plus 2 extra forced reps then you know for a fact that you achieved a growth response in the muscle.
That muscle is now completely finished!
Compare that to someone who trains with 2-4 “reps in reserve” on every set. Instead of focusing on training hard and really pushing themselves they are focused on avoiding muscle fatigue and taking it easy. Besides, how do you even know you have 4 reps in reserve if you never push yourself?
The bottom line is forced reps force you to train all-out on your sets which is a no-bullshit way to make progress in the gym. If you agree with Greg Doucette that you should train harder than last time then you will love forced reps!
Forced Rep Benefit #5: They Make Training Uncomplicated!
Training doesn’t have to be complicated! I say this as the creator of Revolutionary Program Design, a website dedicated to the art and science of strength training program design.
Too many people overthink their training programs and get paralyzed by fear of doing something wrong in the gym. Have you ever asked yourself any of the following questions:
- Did I leave 3 reps in reserve or 4 reps in reserve on my last set? Oh no – did I screw that set up?
- Should I add an extra “pinkey twist peak contraction” on my set of bicep curls for more gains?
- I just did 6 chest exercises. Was that enough volume? Will I still make progress if I leave out cable crossovers and that other cool chest machine?
If you ask yourself these types of questions then you are making things too complicated! Forced reps are awesome because they simplify your training program. You don’t have to worry about reps in reserve, optimal rep ranges, optimal training volume or any of that stuff.
Many bodybuilders like Dorian Yates have gotten incredible results just picking 2-4 exercises per body part and performing 1-2 all-out working sets per exercise. On exercises where it is safe they threw in 1-3 forced reps for good measure.
For example this was Dorian’s chest workout during his 6-year reign as the Mr. Olympia champion:
Dorian Yates’ Chest Workout
- A1: 30 degree incline bench press, 1 x 6, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Flat machine press, 1 x 6 + 2 forced reps, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 1 x 6 + 2 forced reps, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- D1: Standing cable crossover, 1 x 6 + 2 forced reps, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
That’s it! He picked 4 mass-building chest exercises and performed 1 all-out working set to failure per exercise. I’m not saying that this is the only way to train or that everyone should train like this. However, if you are overthinking your training program then forced reps may be your saving grace.
Forced reps simplify your training program so you can focus on the things that really matter, like putting maximum effort into your sets.
Here is Stan Efferding talking about the dangers of over-complicating your program and the importance of good-old-fashioned hard work:
“You know your sets, your reps, your exercises, your order of exercise, slow-twitch, fast-twitch, whatever you decide I think makes a minimal difference. The big difference is do you train to to failure, do you bust your ass in the gym, or do you just go through and do your 4 sets of 12 and call it a day?”
I couldn’t have said it better myself! The bottom line is forced reps are one of the simplest ways to get bigger and stronger. If you suffer from paralysis by analysis then you have to give them a shot!
If you want to get bigger and stronger as fast as humanly possible then forced reps are one of the best tools you can use.
Forced reps overload the eccentric phase of your exercises, increase your training density and help you build size and strength at the same time. Forced reps also have psychological benefits such as forcing you to train hard and simplifying your training program.
Forced reps are not for everyone. Some people get better results using a higher-volume approach with fewer sets taken to failure. However, for many people absolutely nothing works better than performing 1-2 working sets to failure per exercise with 1-3 forced reps thrown in for good measure.
Here is one more quote by Arnold Schwarzenegger on forced reps to pump you up even more:
“The only way to be a champion is by going through these forced reps and the torture and pain. That’s way I call it the torture routine. Pain makes me grow. And so when I am experiencing pain I’m in heaven.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
There are many different ways to squat. However, one of the most popular variations is to squat with your heels elevated. There are many ways to do this: you can use special squatting shoes...