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Forced Reps: Definition, Application, Pros, and Cons

What Are Forced Reps?

‘Forced reps’ is a specialized intensity technique primarily used in strength training and bodybuilding. With this technique, the trainee continues to do repetitions beyond the point of muscular failure with the help of a spotter. For example, if someone does barbell bicep curls and gets tired, a spotter could hold the barbell and assist the trainee in lifting it for a few more repetitions.

The Pros of Forced Reps

The biggest benefit of forced reps is that trainees can target individual muscles more thoroughly and provide a good stimulus in less time. Rather than doing several straight sets with a moderate RPE, a trainee can push well beyond failure and finish the workout quicker.

Forced reps are also a good way to break through a strength plateau, provided the trainee feels recovered and isn’t near the end of a high-volume training block

Plus, forced reps can be fun when used intelligently to shake up a workout plan. Instead of only doing straight sets, the trainee can push harder, get a better pump, and record new personal bests, albeit with the help of a spotter.

The Cons of Forced Reps

One big issue with forced reps is that they are difficult to track, especially from the coach’s perspective. 

For example, how would you monitor week-to-week performance (say, through Hevy Coach) if your client uses a spotter for forced reps each time? It’s difficult to say how much the spotter helps and how much of the work your client does.

Even if performance increases over time, that could be a case of the spotter helping more and more.

Another issue with forced reps is technique breakdown, which is more likely to occur as the trainee gets tired. Range of motion typically decreases, and the trainee may use momentum to complete extra reps. This is not an ideal way to train and further contributes to the difficulty of tracking progress.

Also, the spotter’s experience plays an important role in the safety and effectiveness of forced reps. If the spotter helps too much, doesn’t help enough, or is quick to jump in and help the trainee, it could impact the effectiveness and safety of the set.

Plus, forced reps are not ideal because the trainee always needs a second person to help. But what if there isn’t one around? The tactic wouldn’t work.

Finally, forced reps are highly fatiguing because the trainee must push beyond failure. Training to failure itself makes it more difficult to recover, as noted in research by Navarro et al.:

“RT leading to failure considerably increases the time needed for the recovery of neuromuscular function and metabolic and hormonal homeostasis.”

Adding extra reps on top of that makes it even more difficult and unsustainable.

Should You Program Forced Reps?

I don’t recommend programming forced reps to provide an overload, help trainees overcome plateaus, or get them to do more work in less time (higher training density).

While a spontaneous set of forced reps is not the end of the world (for example, a client goes to train with friends, and they spot and encourage each other), it’s not a sustainable approach.

A better option for trainees with extra time is to do more sets at a moderate RPE. You can add sets to existing movements, prescribe more exercises, or schedule an additional training session.

If the client doesn’t have much time, you can leverage other intensity techniques that are more practical, don’t require the help of a second person, and are easier to track––for example, drop sets, supersets, scheduled AMRAPs, and even circuits.


1. Do forced reps work for all exercises?

Forced reps work on most exercises, apart from more specialized movements like Olympic lifts and deadlifts. If a spotter can jump in and help the trainee without getting in the way, the movement is suitable for forced reps.

2. Are forced reps suitable for beginners?

Forced reps are an advanced training tactic with some advantages and several large drawbacks that isn’t suitable for beginners. Someone new to training can make fantastic progress without training to failure, let alone pushing beyond that point.

3. How many forced reps should trainees do beyond failure?

It’s generally best to aim for two to five reps beyond failure, so long as the trainee continues to do the majority of work on each rep and the technique doesn’t break down. Anything more than that would be highly fatiguing and increase the risk of injury.

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