Resistance training techniques have evolved from “in the gym” to the research labs. Many of today’s techniques started with experimentation in the field by creative bodybuilders, athletes/coaches and medical professionals. Techniques are another vehicle to reach goals. Designing resistance training programs is an individualized process and one technique may work for one person and not another. Beyond goals, other factors may play into the design (and ultimately the technique) of a resistance training program. Issues such as fitness, personal training history, individual readiness and motivation, time one may be able to commit to training, facilities available for training, and special needs a person may have all influence the exercise prescription. Given the above, and how many systems and techniques (almost endless) can be combined, the exercise professional must make it a priority to recognize that clients need to be educated to the pros/cons of the many options for resistance training based on best-evidence.
Interestingly, a technique with the name “cheating” is quite effective. This technique allows the athlete to break strict form to complete one or two more repetitions in a set. The goal of cheating is to permit an individual to increase strength and hypertrophy by allowing development of greater force through a larger range of motion while working a set to failure. There are different versions of cheat reps: extended set cheats and heavy cheats. Extended sets cheats involve reps “performed as strictly as possible before additional muscles or momentum take the set beyond failure” (Meadows, 2016). Whereas, heavy cheat sets are when “form is “loosened up” a bit to lift a heavier weight than normal throughout the set” (Meadows, 2016). Because the technique involves breaking strict form it may not be a good choice for novices or people with special needs (Meadows, 2016) as it may increase the risk of injury (Fleck & Kraemer, 2014; Meadows, 2016). Additionally, various exercises may be better and safer than others for cheats. For example, cheating on a dumbbell row presents relatively lower risk for injury as compared to a barbell row where the risk of back injury is increased (Meadows, 2016).
Sets to failure
Sets to failure technique is straightforward, it involves completing a set, with good form, until no further repetitions can be performed. The posited mechanism for physiologic gains assumes that training to failure will maximize motor unit recruitment. Some professionals further speculate that brief periods of sets to failure may be beneficial to though attempting to break through plateaus. Data suggests that sets to failure may not be needed to accrue benefits such as strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance, and power. Using sets to failure causes the velocity of the movement to slow during a repetition and may lead to subsequent change in technique. Other data suggests that training to failure causes repetitive micro traumas (Nimmons et al., 1995). Training to failure also causes high levels of fatigue even compared with the same training volume when not training to failure, which in turn may impact training frequency (Mora-Rodraguez et al., 2017). Given the repeated stress and potential for error with changes in technique during a movement using sets to failure theoretically might lead to non-functional overreaching, overtraining, and injury. Therefore, training using sets to failure for long periods of time is not recommended.
Forced repetitions is one of the first techniques that many novice weight lifters experience. The technique involves the assistance of a spotter aiding the lifter in completing 1-4 extra repetitions after momentary volitional fatigue in a movement. An example would be when a lifter completes a half a repetition on the bench and receives help completing that repetition and then attempts one more with assistance throughout the movement. This is 1.5 assisted reps. Even though the technique is associated with concentric work, it may be used to aid in eccentric movements (heavy negative training). The reasoning for attempting forced repetitions is that it may increase strength, hypertrophy and local endurance by recruiting more motor units and inducing greater levels fatigue. As with many lines of thought in the fitness world, more is better. Not necessarily. A study by Drinkwater and colleagues demonstrated that when comparing a protocol of forced repetitions on the bench press four forced repetitions provided no benefit over one. This study was of interest as it included moderately trained young athletes who have been known to benefit from forced repetitions, not novice lifters who may not respond the same way and may not derive benefit. The study concluded: “This finding questions the efficacy of adding additional volume by use of forced repetitions in young athletes with moderate strength training experience.” Forced repetitions must be used with caution. Provoking work beyond normal levels of fatigue, especially in the novice, can lead to elevated degrees of soreness.
Partial repetition is a technique in which the lifter performs a repetition through a restricted range of motion (ROM). Advocates of this technique theorize that be using heavier than normal weight within the restricted ROM an individual may increase strength. Partial repetition has been found to increase both isometric strength and concentric strength. The technique may derive its training benefits from neural changes within the ROM trained. Benefits may be related to joint angle specificity and the strength curve of the exercise. The technique is commonly used to train the ROM that includes a sticking point or where the strength curve for the activity is easier. Developing strength at the sticking point (weakest point) may allow for a greater lift potential. Partial repetition may improve power as it has been demonstrated that at heavier weights, greater velocity can be generated then with full ROM. It should be noted that this technique is done in limited ROM and any training benefit is joint angle specific. Having said that it is entirely appropriate to train using partial repetition as some activities will benefit from such training. A study comparing full, half, and quarter squats looked at vertical jump and 40-yard sprint times. The data found that the quarter squat group increase vertical jump and decreased sprint time as compared to the other two groups (Rhea et al., 2016). Based on this study, there may be transfer of power within the natural ROM of both sprinting and vertical jump. Allowing the athlete to lift more weight or generate more velocity in the restricted ROM in this case seems advantageous.
Fleck, S. J., & Kraemer, W. J. (2014). Designing resistance training programs (4th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Meadows, J. (2016, September 9). Are cheat reps worth it? Retrieved from https://www.t-nation.com/training/are-cheat-reps-worth-it
Mora-RodrÃguez, R., MorÃn-Navarro, R., Cruz-SÃnchez, E. D., GonzÃlez-Badillo, J. J., SÃnchez-Medina, L., PÃrez, C. E., & PallarÃs, J. G. (2017). Time course of recovery following resistance training leading or not to failure. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 117(12), 2387-2399. doi:10.1007/s00421-017-3725-7
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Rhea, M. R., Kenn, J. G., Peterson, M. D., Massey, D., SimÃ£o, R., Marin, P. J., . . . Krein, D. (2016). Joint-Angle Specific Strength Adaptations Influence Improvements in Power in Highly Trained Athletes. Human Movement, 17(1). doi:10.1515/humo-2016-0006
Tumminello, N. (2017, March 16). Retrieved from https://www.t-nation.com/training/partial-range-reps-not-always-cheating