Forced Reps: The Ultimate Guide!


Forced Reps For Hypertrophy

There are many different high-intensity bodybuilding techniques that you can use in your own training. Techniques such as tri-sets, drop sets, and mechanical advantage drop sets are all extremely effective for building muscle.

However, one of the most powerful training method is undoubtedly forced reps!

Introduction

  • Part 1: The Advantages Of Forced Reps
  • Part 2: The Disadvantages Of Forced Reps
  • Part 3: Dorian Yates’ Blood And Guts Training
  • Part 4: The 12+3 Method
  • Part 5: The 4+2 Method

Forced reps are one of the most effective high-intensity bodybuilding training techniques ever invented!

Forced reps involve training beyond concentric muscular failure with the help of a training partner. First you train to failure in the 5-10 rep range. Then instead of putting the weight down your training partner helps you perform 1-3 additional reps.

Although your partner is assisting you through the concentric range you are still responsible for lowering the weights under control on your own.

These post-failure repetitions allow you to overload the eccentric portion of a repetition and create an absolutely horrible amount of muscular damage.

Of course a video is worth a thousand words. Here is a video of Dorian Yates performing a set to failure plus a few forced repetitions on the nautilus pullover machine:

Talk about a brutal set! By my count Dorian performs five reps on his own followed by an additional 3 forced repetitions with the help of his spotter.

Dorian was known for training harder than any other bodybuilder during the 1990s and this training video serves as proof!

Dorian was far from just a meat head though. In fact Dorian was one of the more intelligent Mr. Olympias we have seen. Dorian is one of the few individuals that I have seen make the observation that forced repetitions are really a form of eccentric training

Although Dorian has done more to popularize the use of forced repetitions than anyone else he is far from the only bodybuilder to make use of them in his training.

Even bodybuilders with higher-volume training styles have used forced repetitions on occasion in their training.

For example you can click right here to see Ronnie Coleman performing a set of incline dumbbell presses to failure with a couple of forced repetitions thrown for good measure.

Forced repetitions are clearly an effective training method and they have been used by some of the greatest bodybuilders of all time to build their incredible physiques.

In the rest of this article I am going to dive right into the advantages and disadvantages of forced repetitions.

I will also be providing you with three seperate forced repetition training routines that you can start using today to build a bigger, stronger physique!

Please note that I write my training routines such that all of the loading parameters are clearly defined. If you have any trouble reading the sample routines in parts 3-5 then please consult this article.

Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: The Advantages Of Forced Reps

There are many advantages to using forced reps in your training. Four of the biggest advantages are the following:

  1. They force you to train hard!
  2. They overload the eccentric portion of the exercise!
  3. They work all 3 functions of muscular hypertrophy!
  4. They force you to train progressively!

Let’s take a closer look at each of these points.

Advantage #1: They Force You To Train Hard!

One of the keys to making progress in the gym is to train hard.

It does not matter if you are doing a high-volume bodybuilding style workout such as tri-sets, a pure strength workout such as cluster-sets, or a low-volume / high-intensity workout such as rest-pause training.

If you aren’t training hard then you are wasting your time in the gym! You will make zero gains, or even worse: Greg Doucette will hunt you down on the internet and scream at you to train harder! **Shudders**

Forced reps really force you to train hard on each and every set. After all, a typical forced reps workout will include only 1-2 working sets per exercise. If you don’t go all-out on these limited number of sets then you can forget about making any progress! 

Advantage #2: They Overload The Eccentric Portion Of The Exercise!

The “mad genius of bodybuilding” Dorian Yates was the first person I saw to make this observation. One of the reasons that forced reps work so well is that they let you overload the eccentric range of a set!

Normally when you hit technical failure during a set your concentric strength is fully exhausted. After all, by definition once you reach failure you cannot perform another rep concentrically with good form.

However this does not mean that your eccentric strength has been fully taxed!

If someone were to lift the weight up for you after you reached failure I am confident you would be able to lower the weight under control another 1-3 times.

After 1-3 of these eccentric-only reps you would have a difficult time lowering the weight under control. Only then would you have reached both concentric and eccentric failure.

I have talked a lot before about the benefits of accentuated eccentric training for building muscle and strength.

In my experience eccentric training is the single most effective training method for boosting strength and muscle mass in intermediate to advanced trainees.

If you want to learn more about eccentric training then I highly recommend you check out the following articles:

Trust me, everything you could ever want to know about how to use eccentric training to build muscle and strength is in these 2 articles.

Advantage #3: They Work All 3 Functions Of Muscular Hypertrophy

Unless you have been living under a rock I am sure you have heard of the 3 biological triggers for muscular hypertrophy:

  • Mechanical tension
  • Muscular damage
  • Metabolic fatigue

Mechanical tension refers to the amount of tension that your muscles are under during a set. As a general rule of thumb heavier weights are better for maximizing mechanical tension.

For a bodybuilder this may mean performing sets in the 5-10 rep range. Muscular damage refers to the degree to which your muscle fibers have been damaged during a workout.

As a general rule of thumb higher workout volumes are correlated with greater levels of muscular damage.

High-intensity training techniques such as rest-pause sets and origin-insertion supersets are also effective at increasing muscular damage.

Finally metabolic fatigue is correlated with the amount of lactic acid you produce during a workout. The more of a “burn” you get in your muscles during a workout the higher the degree of metabolic fatigue.

The wonderful thing about forced reps is that they maximize all three of these biological triggers for hypertrophy!

The heavy weights take care of the mechanical tension while the post-failure repetitions take care of the muscular damage and metabolic fatigue.

You won’t find many scientific studies to back this up but forced reps are perfect for maximizing muscular hypertrophy at the cellular level!

Advantage #4: They Force You Yo Train Progressively

One of the biggest mistakes I see in gyms all across America is people fail to use a training logbook.

In fact there are only two types of people that I see using a logbook in the gym: absolute beginners and extremely advanced trainees.

One of the foundational ideas in strength training is the idea of progression.

The entire point of performing a workout (from a strength / size standpoint) is so that you can repeat that workout in the future and surpass your performance from the previous workout.

This is true regardless of whether you are training for size or strength. Even if you are doing something like giant sets you should be able to increase the load or the number of repetitions you perform on each exercise.

If you cannot do this then you know for a fact that you are NOT making progress on that routine!

One of the amazing things about forced reps is they force you to train progressively from one workout to the next! After all, forced reps is a relatively low-volume training style.

You may only perform 1 working set per exercise and 1-3 exercises per body part in a forced reps workout. You can’t rely on a high volume of work to provide the hypertrophy stimulus.

Instead you MUST beat the logbook each and every week if you want to make progress! Beating the logbook is great advice for anyone on any routine but it becomes ESPECIALLY important when using forced reps.

If you aren’t beating the logbook then you aren’t progressing, you’re just spinning your wheels! This is a good thing as it forces you to focus on progressing from one workout to the next.

If you cannot add weight or reps on a particular routine then you know that routine is not suited for you.

You may need to change the volume, frequency, or any other number of variables to kick-start your training progress again.

Part 2: The Disadvantages Of Forced Reps

Forced repetitions are not all rainbows and sunshine. Oh no, there are some serious downsides to this high-intensity training technique.

This does not mean that forced repetitions are bad! Rather, you should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of any training style before giving it a shot. In my experience there are three main disadvantages to forced repetitions:

  1. They are very difficult to recover from
  2. They force you to adopt a lower volume training style
  3. You need a training partner

Let’s examine each of these points a little more deeply.

Disadvantage #1: They Are Very Difficult To Recover From

Forced repetitions are an extremely taxing high-intensity training technique. This is true for all post-failure training methods.

However, forced repetitions are particularly taxing as they also overload the eccentric portion of the exercise.

Accentuated eccentric training is an incredibly effective way to train for size and strength gains but it is very difficult to recover from.

You will need to be very careful about how often you use forced repetitions in your training if you want to progress at an optimal rate.

Disadvantage #2: They Force You To Adopt A Lower Volume Training Style

Forced repetitions are so taxing that you should plan on performing no more than 1-2 working sets per exercise.

If you perform this high-intensity training technique then 1-2 sets per exercise will be more than enough to achieve a growth stimulus.

Dorian Yates performed 2 sets per exercise towards the start of his career. However, as he became stronger and stronger he found that he got his best results performing only 1 all-out working set per exercise.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a lower-volume training style. It certainly works well for many individuals, particularly if they have a neurotransmitter profile higher in dopamine or acetyl-choline.

However, if you are someone who likes to perform lots and lots of sets per exercise and many exercises per workout then forced repetitions may not be your best bet.

Disadvantage #3: You Need A Training Partner

This is a very unfortunate issue with forced repetitions: they cannot be completed without a good training partner. I say training partner and not a spotter.

There is simply no way you can expect a regular gym trainee to understand how to spot you during a set featuring forced repetitions.

You need to have a reliable long-term training partner who knows exactly what you are trying to do if you want to train this way. If you do not have a training partner then it will be impossible to train with forced repetitions.

I am sorry, this is just the way it is. If you are looking for a relatively similar high-intensity training technique that doesn’t require a spotter then you may want to give rest-pause sets a shot.

Part 3: Dorian Yates’ Blood And Guts Training

Dorian Yates did more than any other man in history to popularize the use of forced reps. In fact, Dorian built his entire training system around the use of forced reps!

If you are interested in a training program that relies almost exclusively on forced reps then Dorian Yates’ routine is as good as it gets.

Dorian used a wide variety of exercise in his training including a healthy mix of machines and free weights.

If he was using a machine or a relatively simple free weight exercise such as a dumbbell fly then he went ahead and performed 1-3 forced reps after first reaching failure.

On the more demanding free weight exercises such as deadlifts and barbell rows Dorian stuck with one working set to technical failure.

Dorian used a unique training split during his reign as 6 x Mr. Olympia. He split his body into four seperate training days and trained using a 2 days on, 1 day off schedule.

For example:

  • Day 1: Chest / Biceps
  • Day 2: Quads / Hamstrings / Calves
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Shoulders / Triceps
  • Day 5: Back / Rear Delts
  • Day 6: Off
  • Day 7: Repeat

If you cannot make this schedule work then you may want to perform 4 workouts over a 7 day period. For example, you could train on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of each week.

I think Dorian’s split works best but you do need to have a relatively flexible schedule to make it work.

Here are the actual workouts:

Chest / Biceps

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press, 1 x 6-8, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Flat machine press, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: 30 degree incline fly, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Standing cable crossover, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • E1: 60 degree incline curl, hammer grip, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • F1: Standing ez-bar curl, wide supinated grip, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • G1: 1-arm preacher machine curl, supinated grip, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed

**Perform 2 additional forced reps with the help of a spotter after first reaching technical failure.

Here is the training video for this workout:

Legs

  • A1: Machine bilateral leg extension, 1 x 8-10**, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: 45 Degree Leg Press, 1 x 8-10, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • C1: Machine hack squat, feet narrow, 1 x 8-10**, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • D1: Lying bilateral hamstring curl, feet neutral / dorsiflexed, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • E1: Romanian deadlift to mid-shin, 1 x 6-8, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • F1: Standing unilateral leg curl, feet neutral / dorsiflexed, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed

**Perform 2 additional forced reps with the help of a spotter after first reaching technical failure.

You can click right here for Dorian’s training video for this workout.

Shoulders / Triceps

  • A1: Seated smith overhead press, 1 x 6-8, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Seated DB lateral raise, 1 x 6-8**, 1/1/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: Standing cable lateral raise, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Standing DB shrugs, 1 x 12-15, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • E1: Standing bilateral straight-bar cable pushdown, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • F1: Ez-bar skull crusher, bar to forehead, 1 x 6-8, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • G1: Standing 1-arm cable pushdown, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed

**Perform 2 additional forced reps with the help of a spotter after first reaching technical failure.

You can click right here for Dorian’s training video for this workout.

Back

  • A1: Pullover machine, 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Hammer strength bilateral pull down, supinated grip, 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • C1: Standing barbell row to knees, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Seated 1-arm machine row, 1 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • E1: Bent-over rear delt machine, 1 x 8-12, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • F1: Bent over rear-delt DB flys, 1 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, rest as needed
  • G1: 90 degree back extension, BB on back, 1 x 8-10, 2/0/1/1, rest as needed
  • H1: Conventional deadlift from floor, 1 x 6-8, 1/0/X/0,rest as needed

**Perform 2 additional forced reps with the help of a spotter after first reaching technical failure.

You can click right here for Dorian’s training video for this workout.

 

 

 

I want you to really pay attention to Dorian’s execution of these sets. His training intensity is through the roof!

It is hard to think of any other bodybuilder in history who put as much effort into his sets as Dorian does here. This is the kind of effort you need to summon each and every day when you are training with forced reps ala Dorian Yates!

Your muscles should be completely shot after each and every set. There is no room for horsing around!

On the one hand I have a hard time recommending Dorian’s routine to the average trainee. It is just too demanding.

However, I also know that you are not the average trainee. You wouldn’t be reading this article on Revolutionary Program Design if you were just interested in being average!

After all, I only teach advanced strength training program design on my website. If you are not serious about your training then there are plenty of other resources specifically made for people like you.

I recommend good housekeeping or better home and garden

On the other hand if you want to learn more about Dorian Yates’ incredible training style then I highly recommend the following resources available right here on Revolutionary Program Design:

Everything you need to know about designing your very own high-intensity training program ala Dorian Yates is in these articles.

Part 4: The 12+3 Method

The 12+3 method is very similar to Dorian-style forced repetitions. I first learned about the 12+3 method through the writings of Dan Duchaine in his body transformation book “Body Opus.”

You are going to start the set by performing a set of 12 reps using your 12-rep max. Immediately after performing the twelfth rep you increase the load on the exercise by about 1-20% (depending on your eccentric strength level).

Then you will perform an additional 3 eccentric-only repetitions. Your partner will give generous assistance through the concentric range but you will be required to lower the weight on your own.

To make things even more challenging you will be using a 10-second negative phase during these eccentric-only reps. No, that is not a typo – ten second negatives!

In reality the 12+3 method is just like Dorian-style forced repetitions except the post-failure repetitions are performed with increased loads.

This is a more extreme version of accentuated eccentric training and works incredibly well for building muscle mass.

On some exercises such as the incline bench press you will need two well-trained spotters to make it work. You can either just add on extra weight after the 12th rep or you can add on weight releasers onto either side of the barbell.

Once the bar reaches your chest and the weight releasers fall off your training partners will give generous assistance to help you lift the weight back to lockout.

In my experience the 12+3 method works best on upper body exercises.

I have a harder time recommending it on exercises such as squats and deadlifts although it can be used there too if you are creative enough.

Here is a chest / back workout using the 12+3 method that you may want to try:

Chest / Back 12+3 Method Workout

  • A1: 45 degree incline bench press (medium grip), 3 x 12**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Close supinated grip chin ups, 3 x 12****, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Flat DB press, 3 x 12-15, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: T-bar row, 3 x 12-15, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed using the 12+3 method as described above. Perform 12 regular repetitions, then add weight releasers to either side of the barbell and perform 3 eccentric-only reps with additional loads. You will need 2 well-trained spotters to perform this. Perform the eccentric-only reps using a 10-second lowering phase.

****Performed using the 12+3 method as described above. Perform 12 regular repetitions, then add additional weight to your dipping belt and perform 3 eccentric-only reps. You will need to stand on a platform to start at the top of the movement during these eccentric-only reps. Perform the eccentric-only reps using a 10-second lowering phase.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

This may seem like a lower-volume workout. After all, you are only performing six total working sets per body part.

In reality this is one of the most demanding upper body workouts you will ever do. The 12+3 sets are EXTREMELY taxing to both your muscles and nervous system.

If you do the set correctly then your body will be convulsing like you have a bad case of Parkinson’s disease! 

Here is the legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin talking about what these 10-second eccentric reps should look like:

I can’t promise you that 2-4 weeks of the 12+3 method will make you as sexy as the PowerCast host Marc Bell in this video.

However, I can guarantee you some of the best chest / back hypertrophy gains of your life if you apply yourself correctly!

Part 5: The 4+2 Method

The 4+2 method is another variation on forced reps training. It also happens to be Charles Poliquin’s all-time favourite training method for boosting functional hypertrophy.

Actually the 4+2 method is very similar to the 12+3 method except you are going to be using significantly heavier weights. First you will select a weight that lets you perform 4 repetitions with your 4-rep max.

As Charles Poliquin likes to say,

“Your spleen should come out through your left eye on the fourth rep! Your left eye, not the right eye! This is very important.”

After your fourth rep you INCREASE the weight by 1-40%, depending on your eccentric strength levels. For the purposes of this routine you just add extra weight to your dipping belt.

Then you will perform 2 eccentric-only reps using a 10-second lowering phase. To skip the concentric phase on dips you would just stand up on the support beams and then lower yourself down under control.

On the preacher curls you would simply swap your dumbbell out for a heavier one and use your non-working arm to “skip” the concentric range of the 2 extra reps.

This is easily one of the more demanding arm routines in the world. Check it out:

Arms 4+2 Method Workout

  • A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3-5 x 4**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral DB preacher curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x 4**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Unilateral DB french press, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Incline cable curl, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed using the 4+2 method as described above. Perform 4 regular repetitions, then add additional loads to your dipping belt and perform 2 eccentric-only reps.

**Performed using the 4+2 method as described above. Perform 4 regular repetitions, then swap out your dumbbell for a heavier one and perform 2 eccentric-only reps.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

The total number of 4+2 sets that you perform depends on how you are feeling on that particular day. If you feel like superman then go ahead and do the full 5 sets for both dips and preacher curls.

If you are having more of a ho-hum day then stick with 3 total sets per exercise. Don’t worry, this routine will still work extremely well even if you only complete 3 of these 4+2 sets.

It is the effort that you put into your sets that matters most, not the total number of sets that you do! After all, I’d rather have you do 3 perfect sets per exercise than 5 garbage ones!

Conclusion

Forced Reps For Hypertrophy

Forced reps are one of the most effective accumulation methods of all time. They allow you to overload the eccentric phase of a repetition after reaching concentric muscular failure and force you to train with super-human intensity.

However, forced reps are not for everyone. If you grow like a weed on higher-volume training protocols then you may be better off leaving forced reps alone.

On the other hand if you are someone who thrives on lower-volume training and lives for the chance to train all-out on every set then forced reps might be just what you’re looking for!

Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes the body will follow.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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