The “Austrian Oak” Arnold Schwarzenegger was known for a lot of things during his training career, not the least of which was using barbell cheat curls to help build his massive 22” biceps. The question is if you should follow Arnie’s lead and use cheat reps in your own program. This article will look at whether or not cheat reps are a good idea, and if so, when they should be used.
Why Use Cheat Reps?
The main reason you’d want to use cheat reps is to help overload the muscle. By loosening up your form a little, “bouncing” the weight, or engaging surrounding muscles to help out during a set or two, you can use more weight. This allows you to eliminate the restriction of the weakest part of the range of motion during an exercise. At the same time, the rest of the range of motion can be trained heavier because the muscle is stronger.
You have to “Make Up” for Your Cheating
Because cheat reps allow you to cheat (hence the name) through the more difficult and/or weaker portions of a movement, you need to compensate for that. This means you should only cheat on your heaviest sets of an exercise as a sort of intensity booster. Alternatively, it could also mean that you add substitute exercises that are trained much lighter and stricter to hit that part of the muscle/exercise you’re cheating through.
Never Cheat to Improve Performance
You sometimes see lifters loosen up their form quite a bit for the sake of supposedly improving performance. By doing this sort of cheat reps, they can either lift more weight, do more reps, or finish more quickly. None of this is a good idea. You’re never going to get a true idea of how much you can actually do, the appropriate muscle groups will almost assuredly never be trained properly, and it’s only a matter of time before you end up injured.
When to Use Cheat Reps
As mentioned above, cheat reps can be a good intensity booster. However, they should be used sparingly. Either only employ them every few workouts or on a couple top end sets per workout. Using them too often carries too big of a risk of unbalanced muscular development and leaves you too susceptible to getting hurt.
Which Exercises Should You Cheat On?
Not all movements lend themselves to cheating. Here’s a list of a few that are ‘okay’ to sparingly use in your routine, as well as tips on how to perform them:
- Cheat curls – use body momentum to get the bar moving; rotate the upper arms forward to improve leverage; lean back near the top to finish off the curl.
- Leg presses – cut the range of motion down to ½ or even ¼ reps.
- Standing overhead presses – use your legs and hips to get the bar moving (similar to a pushpress).
- Pushdowns – lean forward to improve leverage.
- Deadlifts – “bounce” the weight off the floor to get more reps.
- Pulldowns – lean back to improve leverage (just don’t do it too much).
While you shouldn’t be cheating on your reps often, doing it from time to time can increase the intensity of your workout and help overload the muscle. Just know that this is an “extra” you employ now and then rather than it being a staple of your routine. Keep your head in the game so you don’t accidentally injure yourself, and remember that you have to find another way to hit the “cheated” part of the movement. Have all this in mind, and you’ll be soon cheating your way to new muscle growth.