A: Should you be doing assisted, or forced, reps in the first place?
When I was in my teens and early 20s, my passion for bodybuilding was at its zenith. It was shortly after Arthur Jones had started making his impact in the bodybuilding world. Training intensity was given great focus, and the maxim of “you can train too long, but you can’t train too hard” was preached—and not just by Jones. Others joined the intensity bandwagon, including me. And I practiced what I preached.
I used to take a set until I truly couldn’t perform another rep under my own steam. Then I would have an assistant give me just enough help that I could eke out another two or three reps. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, sometimes I would finish off with a few negative reps or some breakdown reps, where I’d reduce the poundage enough to allow me to get another couple of reps and then cut back further so that I could get yet another couple of reps. After each of those extended sets the involved musculature was temporarily paralyzed. I was done!
As well as having youth on my side, I ate a great deal, took supplements and got lots of sleep during that period. Still, I made no bodybuilding progress whatsoever. All that extreme dedication produced no growth.
Other drug-free intensity fanatics experienced a similar lack of results.
It is possible to train too hard.
At other times I trained hard but without the extremes I’ve just recounted—every rep I could under my own steam, then two or three assisted reps on some but not all work sets at some workouts. I made some progress on that approach provided I didn’t overdo it.
Adding assisted reps is one method of intensifying a set beyond what you can get under your own efforts with a constant weight. Other intensifiers include drop sets, negative-only reps and partial reps.
Intensifiers have no place in a beginner’s program. Other bodybuilders may find intensifiers helpful provided they are used sparingly.
Exaggerated claims are often made for intensifiers. Here are the two major problems:
1) When you know you have forced reps to perform at the end of an eight-rep set of bench presses, for example, you’re likely to consciously or unconsciously conserve some energy from the normal part of the set so that you can complete the forced reps. Rather than grind out the eighth rep, for example, you stop after the seventh and do the forced reps—and often you don’t do those with full effort. So the set is extended but not intensified. It would be better to complete the set properly, get all eight reps and end it there than cut the main set short in order to tack on some less-than-100 percent-effort forced reps.
2) Bodybuilders who have the zeal to perform a full set of reps and then give their all to an intensifier risk overtraining by training too hard, the way I did when I was young, fanatical and naive. Hard training is necessary for progress, of course, but extremely hard training can be counterproductive. Provided you’re already training at a sufficient intensity, the use of an intensifier may hinder your progress.
So truly train hard under your own steam and add two forced reps on no more than one work set for a given exercise every two weeks—and don’t do forced reps on more than three exercises in any one workout. If that helps your progress, keep doing the assisted reps, but if your progress slows, and you truly are fully attending to the components of recuperation, drop the intensifier.
Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new BRAWN series, Book 1: How to Build Up to 50 Pounds of Muscle the Natural Way, available from Home Gym Warehouse (800) 447-0008 or www