I train this one client who is a major hardass. He’s a former Army Ranger, and the kind of dude who eats nails and shits lightning first thing in the morning. Everyone in our gym knows not to fuck with him.
I remember the first time I worked with him, he had told me I was really being paid to be a glorified spotter. Which is cool, since that’s what a lot of trainers do anyways.
And then I saw him do barbell curls, and it the most awful looking curl I had ever seen in my life; full of hip momentum, knee bend, and very little actual curling.
As we went through the workout, it became obvious that every single exercise this guy was doing was with the worst form imaginable. All cheat reps, all the time.
In this case, cheat reps suck. But are cheat reps okay, sometimes?
First off, what exactly is a cheat rep? This is something I think we all know when we see it, but can be a bit more difficult to define.
I call a cheat rep as any rep that uses momentum, or additional muscles not normally worked to complete the exercise.
- Using hips and legs to complete a curl would definitely count as a cheat rep.
- What about if you’re deadlifting and bouncing the bar off the floor at the bottom of the rep? That’s a cheat rep. Pull the fucking weight from a dead stop like the lift is supposed to be done.
So, we’ve defined a cheat rep. We know what it is. Now what about incorporating them into a routine? Should you do it? Is it dangerous? The Internet form police likely won’t enjoy hearing this, but there is absolutely a time and place for incorporating cheat reps into a routine.
That time and place is when you really care about building muscle.
Cheat reps allow you to accumulate additional volume and push the working muscle past the point of failure. This is something that can stimulate growth in a manner that we normally don’t get.
The entire point of training is to progressively overload your muscles. That’s why periodized training generally works so well, it’s an intelligent and structured way to utilize progressive overload.
Incorporating cheat reps is just another way to progressively overload your muscles. Especially ones that happen to be weak points in your physique.
How do you incorporate cheat reps?
About 90% of your working reps should all be completed with perfect form; if you’re cheating on rep 6 of a 12 rep set, you need to check your ego and drop the weight.
Cheat reps also shouldn’t be implemented every single set. Remember, 90% of your working reps should be picture perfect.
A general rule I like to give clients is to save cheat reps for the last reps on the last set. Specifically for body parts that are problem areas.
For example, if I’m doing curls and I’ve got 3 sets of 12, my first two sets are picture perfect.
On that last set though? I’m going to get to 12, and then push past 12 and allow myself to get a little sloppy with form. Not so sloppy that I’m using all back and shoulders, but definitely incorporate a bit of momentum to overload my biceps.
Choosing the right exercises to cheat with is paramount. This can’t be overstated. You can’t just get in the gym and cheat with any and every exercise, or you’ll wind up hurt. Here are a few exercises I really like to use with cheat reps:
- Lateral raises/rear delt raises
- Dumbbell curls
- Tricep pushdowns
- Leg press
- Dumbbell rows
- Overhead press
When you should NOT do cheat reps.
Cheat reps work really fucking well with certain exercises, and terrible for others. Also, they work really well for some lifters and not for others.
As a general rule, if you’re a new lifter who has been lifting for 2 years or less, don’t even think about incorporating cheat reps. You need to spend time developing the proper movement patterns necessary for most exercises. Plus, you’re still taking advantage of newbie gains. Cheat reps are an advanced method that should be employed by advanced lifters.
As far as exercises are concerned, here are some that you would be wise to stay as strict as possible with in order to prevent yourself from getting injured:
- Barbell rows
- Bench press
- Romanian deadlifts
- Chin ups
- Upright rows
Most of these should be obvious. They require a fair amount of skill, strength, and if you’re pushing too much when fatigued and get sloppy with form you could easily wind up hurting yourself.
Happy cheating bros. Cheat your way to jacked this fall.
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