Forced Reps And Negatives

Man with Plate over head

Forced reps and negatives. Bodybuilders are individualistic athletes. Sometimes, it’s just you in the gym. Other times, you might have a partner. Here’s two of the most effective intensity techniques for both of these situations.

Solitude allows you to blaze your own path and perform the workout that best suits your physique. Train alone and you don’t have to worry about another person’s needs. Flying solo, though, also has its downside. The worst part of training alone is the absence of helping hands to assist you through the final brutal reps of a set. Such support is needed most when it comes to two tried-and-true intensity principles. These principles are forced reps and negatives. These two techniques can improve your intensity and results. Only one of them really needs the help of a partner. The other one can be done alone.  

Forced Reps And Negatives – Forcing The Issue

The key to intense workouts is taking your sets beyond failure. This means beyond the point at which the pain prevents your muscles from performing another rep. One excellent way of achieving this intensity is to do several forced reps when you can no longer complete repetitions on your own. For a forced rep, someone has to physically help you move the weight.

To get a sense of how forced reps affect your muscles, consider a descending set. Imagine that you perform lying triceps extensions for 10 reps with 90 pounds. At the end, when you have reached failure, you immediately strip off 10 pounds. This allows you to perform three more reps. This is a descending set.

Following the forced reps and negatives principles, specifically forced reps, you can perform those three extra reps without stripping off 10 pounds. Furthermore, if done correctly, the extra reps are even more intense than they are in a descending set. Let’s say you reach failure with the 90-pound barbell. Another person will ever-so-gently place his fingertips under the bar and help you do three more reps. This person offers just enough force to keep the bar moving through the sticking points.

You should be straining all the way.

Look at our 90-pound-barbell example. About four pounds of stress are removed from the first forced rep via your partner’s fingertips. This leaves the equivalent of an 86-pound barbell. Seven pounds come off from the second forced rep. That makes it the equivalent of an 83-pound barbell. About three pounds come off the final forced rep. Or, the equivalent of an 80-pound barbell. You are always straining with the maximum weight you can utilize. This is opposed to 80 pounds through three reps of a descending set.

Forced Reps And Negatives – Aiding and Abetting

The key to forced reps is moving the weight at an average rate, not too slow, not too fast. You do this while you are lifting with maximum effort. With this technique, you’ll need just enough assistance from a spotter to do so. You can be injured if the weight you’re lifting is so heavy that its progress through the rep stops for more than three seconds. This is especially true in the middle range of pressing movements. On the other hand, if a weight goes up very fast, the spotter is  doing too much of the work.

The amount of aid the spotter gives should increase for each forced rep. Eventually, when your muscles are thoroughly taxed, you will not be able to contribute much. It will then be difficult for the spotter to judge how much help to provide. This is the time to stop doing forced reps. This is because you’ll either be tempted to use sloppy (and dangerous) form or the spotter will be doing virtually all of the work. For example, a bench press session in which you utilize forced reps should not turn into an upright row session for your spotter. The rapid onset of failure is why forced reps are usually limited to five, In fact, three forced reps are the average. If you are performing them correctly to expand an already torturous initial set, you generally won’t need or be able to do more than three forced reps.

You can do forced reps and negatives for most exercises. There are exceptions, however. These include deadlifts, barbell rows, lunges, standing calf raises and power cleans. It’s difficult for a spotter to render assistance for those types of movements. It’s easiest for a spotter to help with forced reps for exercises such as pulldowns, barbell curls, and chest and shoulder presses.

It is best to perform forced reps after a medium-range set (eight to 12 reps). With lower-rep sets, failure comes on so fast that it can be difficult for a spotter to gauge how much help to provide, and that can be dangerous. For that reason, use only experienced spotters for forced reps after a heavy set of chest presses. Conversely, at the conclusion of higher-rep sets, failure can come on so slowly and the amount of assistance needed can be slight. It can be tough for a spotter to judge when and how much help to provide for the forced reps.

Forced Reps And Negatives – The Positives Of Negatives

There is scientific evidence that we are stronger in the negative (or lowering) portion of a weight exercise than in the positive (or lifting) half. Reverse-gravity, or negative, reps are performed by lowering the weight approximately four times slower than usual, utilizing eight to 12 seconds for the descent. 

Assisting Against Nature

There are three ways to do negative reps. Two of the three are assisted. The first method is to have one or two training partners position a weight that is 20% heavier than you normally handle. For instance, assume your normal weight on a barbell curl is 100 pounds for 10 reps. Load the bar to 120 pounds and have a partner help you raise it to the top position. From there, slowly lower the weight to the starting position. You should be fighting gravity all the way. Try to do this for 10 reps. When the weight begins to go down too quickly, your helper(s) can assist with negative forced reps, slowing the weight for you slightly. These negatives cause quite a bit of muscle soreness, which is a sure indication that muscle growth will take place.

It’s important that you do such negative sets for exercises that are safe to spot and easy to perform. Machine exercises are generally best. Some free-weight lifts, including squats, deadlifts and lunges, should never be considered for negatives. It’s also important that your partner(s) have the time, energy and skill to perform the positive portion of your lifts and to guide you through the descent. It’s not unheard of for athletes to train using only negatives. These sets are very intense. Make sure you allow plenty of recovery time when using these. You can overtrain using any training approach. To keep workouts feeling fresh, you can cycle among the various intensity techniques, or use none at all. Ultimately, progressively increasing your poundages on the basics is the best way to grow. Therefore, always have a strength foundation in your routines. From there, you can try other techniques. 

Forced Reps And Negatives – The Second Method

The second way of performing negatives with assistance is to utilize them at the end of a set, just as with forced reps. Let’s return to our example of barbell curls for 10 reps with 100 pounds. After you have reached failure on the 10th repetition, another person (or two) can lift the bar back to the contracted (chest-level) position. You then attempt to lower it as slowly as possible. Because you should have more negative strength than positive strength, you should be able to perform another three to five slow descents with the 100-pound barbell. In fact, the spotter may want to push down on the weight slightly to make the negatives even more difficult.

Even when you have done all the negatives you can in this manner and the floor is starting to feel like one giant magnet tugging at the weights, don’t stop. With the help of at least two extra hands, perform negative forced reps. Your partner lifts the bar to the contracted position, then gently helps you to slow the weight’s descent for an additional three negative reps. All the while, you should fight the forces of gravity. A set to failure, followed by negatives, followed by negative forced reps, is about as intense as weight training can get.

Forced Reps And Negatives – The Third Way

You won’t need any help with this method. It comes down to rep performance. On the negative part of the rep, take 4-6 seconds to lower the weight. At the bottom, at full stretch, hold for 10 seconds. Then explosively but under control ram the bar back up. This is the easiest way to do negatives. Let’s be real, it’s not going to be easy to find two people willing to help with assisted negatives. With this method, you don’t have to bother anyone. 


As you can see, forced reps and negatives add a lot of intensity. That’s true as long as you can find a spotter or two. What if you can’t? Do negatives as described above. Ok, but how do you replace forced reps? Rest pause. Push your set to failure. Rack the weight for an 8-10 count. Now, unrack the bar and knock out another few reps. You can continue this process for a total of three rest pauses. Want to go even farther? Add a static hold on the last rep of each set/mini set. Hold the bar in the middle phase for as long as possible. Intensity, anyone? 

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