Do Forced Reps Make You Stronger?

Forced reps is and advanced strength training technique, but does it work?

You might already be familiar with the concept of eking out more repetitions than you’re comfortably able to do. That’s what weight training is all about, pushing your muscles harder than they’re accustomed to in a controlled, progressive manner. Forced reps capitalize on this idea of forcing your muscles to push a little harder.

What exactly are forced reps? It’s where you do as many repetitions as possible. Then, at the point where you feel failure coming on, someone helps you eke out another rep or two. Forced reps definitely work your muscles harder and apply more total stress. That’s because you’re making your muscles work beyond failure – but how effective are they at building strength?

We’d like to think that training to failure and even past failure will trigger greater strength gains. On the surface, doing forced reps seems as if it would be an effective technique as you’re really hitting the muscles hard, but such techniques don’t always yield the expected results.

How to Do Forced Reps

Let’s get specific on how to do them. Select a weight that allows you to do five or six reps before your muscles start to fail. Using this weight, do as many repetitions as you can on your own. At the point where you have trouble lifting the weight or your form starts to break down, a spotter steps in and gives you enough support so that you can continue to move the weight at the same tempo. The spotter provides the least amount of support that you need to do this, no more. Typically, people do forced reps on the final set rather than on every set due to the intense nature of the training.

The downside of forced reps is you have to have a spotter and you need one who can help you in a safe manner. If you train alone, you may not have an eager participant who knows how to manage the weight in a safe and effective manner. Even if you have a person to safely spot you, the question is whether forced reps are really worth the effort.

Forced Reps for Strength Gains

Can forced reps help you get stronger? A 2007 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that forcing extra reps may not be as effective as people think for building strength. In the study, researchers asked 22 athletes to train 3 times weekly for 6 months. The participants lifted at 90 to 100% of their 6-rep max on a bench press. All the participants did some forced repetitions, but some did more than others. But, when the researchers looked at their strength gains, the gains were similar irrespective of how many forced reps the participants did. Forced reps didn’t seem to offer any advantage over standard reps. What they did lead to was muscle exhaustion. The drawback is the exhaustion you feel will likely limit your performance on subsequent sets.

On the plus side, it’s possible that forced reps could help with muscle hypertrophy. That’s because training to failure, and past failure, maximizes muscle fiber activation, muscle tension, and metabolic stress, factors that are important for hypertrophy gains. Some studies suggest that forced repetitions boost growth hormone and testosterone release more than conventional sets and that can be favorable for muscle growth. However, forcing your muscles to work past the point of failure also stimulates greater release cortisol, due to the excessive stress posed on the muscles. This is unfavorable for hypertrophy gains as cortisol is a catabolic hormone. At this point, there’s no strong evidence that doing forced reps enhances muscle strength or hypertrophy gains.

Forced reps have another disadvantage. You can’t do them for every exercise. It would be very difficult or dangerous to do forced reps with exercises like deadlifts and lunges Forced reps are best for exercises like curls, bench press, and squats. It’s also easier for a spotter to provide assistance, with exercises like curls, when you use a barbell rather than a dumbbell. As mentioned, you need an experienced spotter to help you or you could easily injure yourself. That’s a big disadvantage if you think about it!

Let’s weigh the pros and cons of this advanced technique. With forced reps, you can complete more volume on a given exercise, but there’s no evidence that the increased volume improves strength gains. There are also no good studies showing forced reps boost muscle hypertrophy either. Instead, they leave your muscles excessively fatigued and make it harder to do volume on the subsequent exercises that use the same muscle groups.

The Bottom Line

Forced reps are an advanced training technique, but one that lacks strong evidence of benefits. It appears unlikely that doing them will help you get stronger. There are also some obvious disadvantages. Doing them may lead to muscle and neural exhaustion that, over time, can interfere with strength gains. They could conceivably enhance hypertrophy gains or help break through a training plateau but studies supporting the benefits are lacking, mostly because these studies haven’t been done. It would be interesting to see the results of such a study.

But we all reach plateaus and need to break through them. Sometimes, you need to pull out all the stops and use more advanced training techniques to jump start muscle growth. However, doing forced reps is a low yield way to build strength or enhance hypertrophy. In fact, it will likely exhaust you and be inconvenient to do because you need a spotter. So, stick with other advanced training techniques that are proven to work. Sometimes, we think we won’t get results unless we push ourselves harder and harder, but doing a balanced workout is also important.

When you do advanced training techniques that force your muscles to work to failure, your muscles need more rest and recovery time before reworking that muscle group again. You need to wait 48 hours before training the same muscle group again, but if you do advanced training techniques, your muscles will benefit from an extra day of rest. That’s why you shouldn’t use advanced techniques every time you train. A balance between work and rest maximizes gains.



J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Aug;21(3):841-7.
“A Brief Review of Forced Repetitions for the Promotion of Muscular Hypertrophy” Daniel Hackett
Strength and Conditioning Journal 37(5) · August 2015


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