By David Sandler Flex
Want bigger arms, a thicker chest and back, and legendary legs? Read on. Many of you already use cheat moves, and for the super huge and ripped, this information may not be new, but I’m still willing to bet you can find a few take-away points to build the perfect physique.
For those not using cheat reps, I ask only one question: “Why Not?” The mention of the word “cheat” to most athletes basically starts with “no way” but ends with “how can I get away with it.” While I’m not suggesting that cheating in athletics is acceptable, I willfully admit that it’s a part of sports. Whether intentional or not, a little cheat here and there can go a long way, and has made a positive difference in the out- come and end result. At first pass, cheating, in anything, has a negative connotation to it. When you dive a little deeper into the mechanics of a good cheat with respect to building muscle, somehow the negative quickly becomes a positive.
In lifting weights, there is no need to hide or feign ignorance; besides, no one cares anyway. And for the naysayers who argue that cheating could be dangerous or doesn’t work the muscles, I have only one comment: “Do you even lift, bro?” A well-planned cheat cannot only help increase strength and power, but can push plateaus to break, and help increase hard-to-gain size. The key, however, is to cheat with a purpose, not just randomly throw weights around.
The obvious way to prevent cheating is to end your set before you need to cheat. For those who do not lift much or don’t want to work hard, this option works fine. But for anyone looking to add serious size, a few cheat reps are your best bet, as they represent the immediate ability to prolong a set without any help and little extra time. Being able to get another rep to the hardcore lifter means one step closer to their goal. In a 10-rep set, each rep is 10%, so being able to add another two or three reps can make a big difference over the long haul. Most importantly, cheat reps allow you to either lift slightly heavier than normal or keep your weight the same throughout the set. While dropsets will allow you to get that extra volume, and are a great way of getting extra reps, it requires lightening the load. However, while cheat reps keep the weight heavy, if you have to cheat too soon in your set, you will lose the targeted rep range that you’re looking for.
Cheat reps should be performed on no more than the last two reps of a planned set and serve an even greater benefit when they’re added after your target rep range has been met. In other words, if your target rep range is 12 and you’re cheating before Rep 10, the weight is too heavy, but if you get 13 or 14 reps by adding a cheat, you are dialed in perfectly.
8 RULES FOR CHEATING
You gotta love having rules for something that you really shouldn’t be doing. But in weight training, you really should be adding a cheat, especially if you’re working out alone. The following are the 8 Commandments for Cheating:
- THOU SHALT NOT CHEAT TOO SOON – The weight is too heavy if you need to cheat from Rep 1.
- THOU SHALT NOT CHEAT ON EVERY SET – Cheating too much can lead to overtraining and poor technique.
- THOU SHALT NOT CHEAT ON COMPLEX EXERCISES – Big benching, squatting, and other multi-joint lifts like the power clean need to be careful that technique is not compromised.
- THOU SHALT NOT CONFUSE A CHEAT REP WITH A PARTIAL REP – Go deep or go home.
- THOU SHALT NOT LAUNCH WEIGHTS HAPHAZARDLY – A controlled cheat improves strength and size, a launch simply completes a task improperly.
- THOU SHALT NOT CHEAT UNLESS YOU HAVE TO CHEAT – Complete your set to the best of your ability and add when you have to.
- THOU SHALL WORK HARD ON EVERY REP OF EVERY SET, SO A CHEAT IS JUST A CONTINUATION OF A HARD-FOUGHT SET – If this needs explanation, you really need to consider why you go to the gym.
- THOU SHALT NOT ACT LIKE AN ASS IN THE GYM – Okay, so this has nothing to do with cheating, but I think it’s worth mentioning. Don’t make us meatheads who do care what we’re doing look bad.
ANATOMY OF A CHEAT REP
The perfect cheat is not simply throwing the weight up, but rather it’s the ability to move your body around to provide just the amount of extra help necessary to get through the sticking area. An example of this is the difference between launching the weight from your hips to shoulders in a biceps curl versus muscling through the sticking point by leaning back a little bit.
The first method simply uses momentum and removes stress from the biceps and thus, if you’re trying to build muscle, simply won’t cut it. Instead, a little lean, or even an excessive lean, will help keep tension on the biceps while you power through the rep. While this may not seem like much of a difference, the results can be profound.
Without going super-science on you, a quick understanding of the basic biomechanics of how the body uses levers to produce force will help you choose the path that gives you the best results. The reason you struggle is quite simple, but overcoming it is another thing. A movement generally starts out fine, then requires huge effort and then finishes strong. This pattern is dictated by the movement line against the joint and muscle combination and is a function of both the biomechanical properties of the movement and physiological properties of the muscle.
The biomechanical side says that the farther the weight is away from your body, the more force you need to generate to make the lift. That means that as you go through any movement, the force needed to lift the weight changes. The physiological side suggests that muscle generates less force when it is fully elongated and more force as it contracts through the movement. The parody, however, is that muscle is often in its best strength point (semi-contracted) when the weight is farthest from the body (i.e., a biceps curl when your arm is at 90 degrees), and thus, the issue becomes whether or not the muscle has the ability to produce enough strength to overcome the effective weight created by the distance from the body.
This phenomena is created by the fact that the weight is incrementally heavier every inch it is away from the axis of rotation. The axis of rotation is the joint, and muscle needs to exert enough force to keep the weight moving. In plain weightlifting speak: Even if the muscle is at the optimal force-producing angle, if the weight becomes too heavy, a sticking point is created, and if the force required to overcome it is not sufficient, you either need to cheat or fail. Since failure is not an option, cheating is the best solution.
DON’T BE A LAUNCHER
You can always spot the rookie cheater. He is the one taking a big first swing launching the weight upward, generating so much momentum the weight powers through the sticking point. And while this accomplishes the task of lifting the heavy weight, it takes the emphasis of the muscle you’re trying to work. Essentially, the only part of the rep that may actually help develop muscle is the very end, if you’re able to slow it down. It’s a fair mistake for novice lifters to make, but there’s no excuse for the seasoned veteran who sloppily throws around the weight because he’s tired. You have a choice. You could just stop and not waste time, but an even better solution is to strip some weight and crank out a few more reps. To develop big, thick, and well-peaked muscles, don’t be a launcher.
TWIST, BEND, SQUIRM – JUST GET IT DONE
The knowing lifer, the one who wants to get the most out of his workout, pushes the limits by struggling hard through the sticking point to keep the muscle in question engaged. Leaning back, twisting, and pulling the weight closer to your body while fighting through the sticking point proves two things: You’re an animal with a savage work ethic; and you’re not taking shortcuts that reduce muscle activity. You want gains? You need to push yourself past your comfort zone. Winners compete, losers quit. While physiologically the body wants to stop, mechanically you can alter your position and crank out a few more reps. The genesis of the perfect cheat rep is emerging.
PERFORMING THE PERFECT CHEAT
The perfect cheat is an evolutionary step away from a perfect repetition. It is not a butchering of the perfect rep. It is not a jumbo swing. It is a mild variation in body position as the weight becomes difficult and progresses that variation throughout the sticking point until the weight becomes manageable again. A slight lean can become a bigger lean. A short body shift can become a bigger movement if needed.
The key, however, is to provide assistance to working muscles by shortening the distance and creating a better mechanical advantage. Some muscle groups have a better solution than others, and with certain areas, a good cheat is almost impossible to pull off. Additionally, some exercises lend themselves to the perfect cheat, while others do not. It is hard to cheat in a squat and bench press. In fact, using your sternum as a springboard, besides being dangerous, is a waste of time and is analogous to swinging a barbell around in a biceps curl. So the perfect cheat requires the right equipment and a slow but deliberate shifting of the body to coax the weight to its endpoint.
A half-rep, quarter-rep, or eighth-rep, as so often the case, does not count as a cheat rep. That is a cop out. Doing partials because you can’t handle the weight properly should be banned and the gym police should be handing out tickets. That is not to say that partial reps don’t have a place in training, as there are some very good reasons and applications for performing them. Lifting too heavy just isn’t one.
THE NON-CHEAT CHEAT
Remember, one of the very best ways to cheat is to get a spot. Yeah that’s right, getting someone to you give you a tiny boost during the lift is, in a sense, a cheat.
While it is casually disguised as help, forced reps (the technical name for getting help) means that you have hit your limit and need some form of cheat to finish your reps. The benefit of grinding out forced repetitions is that your form can stay solid as your partner helps to maintain a good line of movement and provides just the right amount of help against the load provided he or she knows how to spot properly.
When getting a spot, the same rules apply. If you need help from Rep 1 the weight is too heavy. A good spot keeps the weight moving but doesn’t lift the weight for you. Being yelled “It’s all you” while you’re doing the lift is great to push your confidence and help grind out another rep for sure. My pet peeve is that the spotter overdoes it. Don’t let the spot become a crutch, rather it should help complete the set. In the end you need to know how many reps you really got and how much your spotter got. If your spotter’s traps are growing faster than your chest is as a result of helping you on the bench, you’re probably lifting too heavy.
CHEAT YOUR WAY TO BIG GAINS
No doubt you realize the power of a good cheat. No doubt you understand that how you cheat affects your outcome. You need to cheat with a cause and cheat properly for success. Cheat your way to bigger muscles by planning your cheat reps and executing them with the intent to build muscle, rather than just throwing weight around and you’ll surely maximize your time in the weight room.
HOW TO DECIDE WHERE TO PLACE YOUR CHEAT REPS
As you’re shrugging up, pull up slightly like you’re curling the weight. Be careful not to strain your biceps by curling too much.
Whether seated or standing, you can use your upper body strength to lift up on the pads slightly alleviating some of load. This will only help slightly but can be effective.
Grab the handles tight and lean forward. During the lift lean backward into the chair and pull hard.
Lying Leg Curl
Raise your hips of the bench and dorsifex at the ankle so you pull the weight closer to you.
Pull your elbows back as you curl upward while slightly leaning backward to reduce the distance the barbell or dumbbell is from the body.
Pec Flye and Cable Crossover
Whether standing, seated, or lying, slowly cave your chest in and hunch your back by leaning forward. Then bend your elbows slightly more than normal to finish the rep.
Incline Press and Flat Bench Press
Retract your scapula and arch your back, raising your chest and bringing your elbows in. Press your feet into the ground and move your whole body upward and backward to create a superior mechanical advantage. Don’t bounce the weight.
Hunch over the top of your arms to give a little extra body weight to the push. Do not push hard and fast and create too much momentum.
Extension and Skull Crusher
Whether lying or standing, drop your elbows, bringing them closer to your body to shorten the distance (the arc) the bar or dumbbell has to travel.
For all cable rows and pulldowns, shrug your shoulders up, lean backward while sticking your chest out, and pull through the movement.
Bend deeper at the knees, lowering your body toward the weight. If you stand up to much you will move the emphasis from the lats to the traps.
Rather than throw the weight up by extending your legs and rolling up on to your toes, slowly bend the legs and squat down so the weight continues to stress the deltoids on the way up.
Lean backward, slowly bringing the anterior deltoids and upper fibers of the chest into play. This will keep the weight moving.