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Forced Reps – Getting that little bit extra out of your workout

All too often we give up at the first sign of fatigue or shake-age (that is my very technical term for when a muscle starts to fatigue and it gets hard to press /pull/squat/whatever the weight).

If we want results, we have to push. And that doesn’t mean working out for a lot longer or doing a ton more.

But it does mean forcing ourselves to push just a little bit harder.

It does mean forcing out those couple of reps that we really don’t want to do because they hurt.

Forced reps can be done in a variety of ways, but the point of doing them is to “force” a couple of reps that our body really doesn’t want to do so that we cause growth and change.

We aren’t going to get stronger and fitter if we just continue to do the same comfortable weight for the same comfortable amount of reps.

You need to push yourself.

Most likely your “discomfort” is more mental than it really is physical. And pushing yourself to do an extra few reps will not only push your body, but also your mind.

If you push your mind, in the future you will be able to work harder, which will lead to even more progress.

This doesn’t always mean going to failure or even past failure although going to failure isn’t a bad thing.

It just means doing a couple more than your body THINKS it can do.

So how can you force out those extra couple of reps?

Well for one, you can just do them. Sometimes by just telling yourself, “I’m going to do 8 this week because I could only do 6 last week” will be enough to make you do the extra reps.

But sometimes we really feel like we can’t eek out any more.

This is when you can use a couple of different options. Below are three techniques I like to use to make my body do just those couple of reps past discomfort.

1. Drop Sets – Drop sets are great if your goal is muscle hypertrophy. Drop sets, where you complete reps with one weight and then drop to another weight and force out more reps, really helps you recruit more muscle fibers so that you cause more muscle gains.

Let’s say you can only do 8 single arm rows with a 40lbs dumbbell. You could either choose to stop there or you could force out extra reps by quickly dropping the weight and doing more reps with that lighter weight.

With drop sets, you do reps with a certain weight and then lower the weight and do more reps and continue to do reps and lower the weight until you’ve either completed the allotted sets or you’ve hit failure.

Start heavier and get lighter. You may find that five pounds feel like 100 by the end haha

You can either do bigger drops in weight and try to increase the reps you do with each round OR you can only slightly decrease the weight, which means your reps will actually go down with each round.

With drop sets, do not rest between rounds. Try to quickly drop the weight and go right back into the exercise. The lack of rest is key to complete fatigue of the muscle.

You will probably not do more than one set of a drop set with an exercise since it will take you basically to failure. Make sure that the weight you start with is heavy for about 6-12 reps.

2. Rest-Pause – So I actually just learned the technical name for these kinds of sets after reading an article about Rest-Pause Technique by Colin over at Uber Beast Mode.

Rest-pause technique means that basically you bust out as many reps as possible, take a short little break and then go back and bust out as many more as possible until the number of reps or sets you set out to complete are done (or you’ve hit complete failure).

There are a number of ways to do the rest-pause technique.

In his article, Colin mentions one way to do it:

…[O]ne example of a rest-pause set would be to pick a weight you can do 6 times. Perform the exercise as many times as you can, (6 seems like the most likely number here don’t you think?) then set the weight down and rest for 15-20 seconds. Lift as many as you can again and repeat this process until you can no longer lift the weight. Now you can work to failure here, but let’s be smart people. You don’t want to go to actual failure on lifts where you can end up with weight on top of you unless you have a spotter. Although that is another benefit of rest-pause training. If you don’t have a spotter this is how you can get those extra reps you couldn’t safely do before as the brief rest periods will give you enough stamina to do more.

As Colin states, not needing a spotter to go near failure is definitely an upside to the rest pause technique.

Two other variations I love are:

  • Do as many rounds as needed to complete a certain amount of reps. So say your goal is 30 reps on squat. Pick a weight you can do for no more than 10 reps the first time. Perform as many squats as you can with that weight and then rest. Rest no longer than 30 seconds, then pick the weight up again and perform as many more reps as you can. Continue resting and performing reps until all 30 are completed with a weight that you technically could only do for 10 reps!
  • 10-7-3-1. For this rest-pause set, you will pick a weight that is challenging for 10 reps. You will perform 10 reps then rest for 10 seconds before performing 7 reps. After seven reps, you will rest for 7 seconds before performing 3 reps. After three reps, rest for 3 seconds before performing 1 rep. Then rest for a couple of minutes before performing another 1-3 sets.

3. Assisted Reps So this one is only doable if you happen to workout with someone or there is someone there who can assist you.

But basically how assisted reps work, is that you complete as many reps as possible without assistance and then when you’re about to hit failure  or can’t do any more on your own without resting, your partner jumps in and assists you with the lift.

This can be done with almost anything – squats, bench…Probably not deadlift…But the point is that someone else helps you raise a weight you couldn’t get up on your own.

One of my new “favorite” ways to use it is on push ups (Jeff at my work showed me this one…It is a combination drop set and assisted reps technique).

To do this on push ups, perform as many as you can from your toes aka go to failure from your toes and then instantly drop to your knees and keep going. When you can’t do any more from your knees, have someone then assist you with push ups from your knees until you can’t do any more without them basically having to do all the work.

assisted push ups

Assisted push ups


All three of these techniques will help you get more out of your workouts without necessarily spending more time in the gym. They will also push your muscles to work harder in the time allotted so that you get great results more efficiently.

The great part about the techniques above is that they can be combined to mix things up or force yourself to work even harder.

You can do rest-pause drop sets. Or drop sets with assisted reps.

Anyway, whatever technique you chose to use, the point is to bust out those couple of extra reps that your mind and body are telling you that you can’t do.

What is your favorite way to get yourself to do those extra couple of reps?

How slow can you go?

So more and more I’ve become fascinated with doing an “efficient” workout.

How can I get the most out of something simple that doesn’t take too long?

For one, you can push yourself.

For two, you can challenge yourself by using the heaviest weight you can while maintaining good form.

For three, you can make sure every rep is done perfectly. (Trust me…It is way different when you do a perfect push up and drop your chest to the ground and then lockout than when you don’t have everything engaged or do a complete range of motion.)

And last but not least, you can change rep tempo.

There are lots of different rep tempos you can do.

You can do a rep as fast as possible under control, which may lead you to do plyometric training.

You can do an isometric that requires no movement whatsoever but is merely a hold in one position.

You can do a slow rep where you move slowly on the concentric and the eccentric. For example, you squat for three seconds down and then come up taking three seconds till fully standing.

Or you can do what is popularly called a “negative.”

More and more I’ve become fascinated by the negative.

A negative is taking a long time on the eccentric contraction. You are taking time to “contract” a muscle that is lengthening. A good way to  think about an eccentric contraction is to think about braking. In other words, you are slowly lowering a weight which is making the muscle contract to keep the weight from just pulling your body out of control, but the muscle is also lengthening slowly to lower it down.

There are three main reasons why I’m so fascinated by this specific slow rep tempo or the “negative.”

For one, an eccentric contraction is the one that makes you most sore. It seems to do the most muscle damage.

For two, an eccentric contraction seems to lead to the most strength gains so spending more time on the eccentric contraction during a negative should, therefore, incur more strength gains.

And three, more time under tension, so doing a slower rep, can cause more metabolic adaptations. AKA you burn more fat!

So if you want to burn more fat, going slow through the eccentric part of your rep may get you more bang for your buck. It can also help you gain strength especially if you’ve hit a plateau doing a normal rep tempo.

An interesting side note is that you will also need to use a slightly lighter weight when doing slower reps because you must really control the tempo.

The fact that you can use a lighter weight makes “negatives” or just a slower lifting tempo in general, great if you are a novice lifter. You can really focus on form with the lighter weight while still making great strength and metabolic gains!

This all doesn’t mean that you should just haphazardly throw in different rep tempos to your workout. You need to know what you are training for. If you are looking to lose fat and gain more strength a slow rep tempo may help you out. But if you are looking to gain more power for your sport, a fast tempo may be what you need.

HOWEVER, this post should make you consider whether or not it is time for you to change up the pace…literally.

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