Six Rules for Cheating During an Exercise

Eric January 24, 2011



Cheaters never prosper.  When lifting weights, proper form is paramount to success.  Occasionally though, cheating with your form is a great way to push your muscles beyond failure.  When cheating, you’re more likely to become injured though, so always follow these 6 rules when cheating:

1- ALWAYS start with good form and don’t cheat until you’ve already exhausted your target muscle.

2- Only cheat every so often.  Cheating reps are only one way to change the intensity of an exercise.  Don’t forget other methods vary your workout and increase your pump: drop sets, negatives, changed tempo, pulses, rest-pause, etc.

3- If you have any injuries, NEVER cheat on exercises that compromise those joints or muscles.  Also, as you age keep in mind that your joints are less likely to recover from injuries, and are more likely to react negatively to increased stress added by cheating during reps.

4- Cheating during an exercise should never be used as an excuse not to isolate the targeted muscle group.

5- NEVER EVER EVER compromise your spine when cheating.  Don’t cheat on any exercises that involve stacked weight on the spine.  ie: Good Morning, Bent-over Barbell Row, Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, etc.

6- Allowances for cheating with each muscle group:

  1. Shoulders. Although you should never cheat during seated shoulder presses, it’s easy and safe to get extra reps of standing shoulder exercises (presses, laterals, upright rows, shrugs, etc.) by bending and unbending your knees slightly when performing them. You can also use lower back movement and the resulting momentum to help during some seated shoulder exercises, such as side or bent-over laterals.
  2. Biceps. It’s easy and relatively safe to get extra reps of standing curls by bending and unbending your knees slightly, and by using a little back swaying. You can eke out more reps for seated exercises, like dumbbell curls, with minimal arm swing and for stabilized exercises, like preacher curls, by bringing your shoulders forward and your upper triceps off the bench.
  3. Triceps. As with biceps and shoulders, sets of standing triceps exercises (EZ-bar extensions, pushdowns, etc.) can be expanded with a little additional knee and back motion; the shoulders can also assist during pushdowns. Maintain strict form for lying triceps extensions, dips and close-grip or reverse bench presses.
  4. Calves. Seated calf raises should be done strictly. You can eke out a few more reps of standing calf raises, calf presses and donkey calf raises by bending and unbending your knees during each rep.
  5. Back. Never cheat deadlifts, chins or machine rows. You can get a couple of extra reps of free-weight rows by rising up slightly as you near contraction, but use caution, as this is a potential spinal erector strainer. It’s safer to push sets of pulldowns and seated cable rows beyond strict-rep failure by using limited back swaying.
  6. Quadriceps. Upon reaching failure in the hack squat, you can push up on the shoulder yoke with your hands to help you get a couple of extra reps. Similarly, you can press on your upper quads during leg presses to assist with postfailure reps. leg extensions, squats, lunges and most other quad exercises don’t lend themselves to cheating.
  7. Chest. Chest presses and machine exercises, such as pec-deck flyes, should not be cheated. After reaching failure doing strict dumbbell flyes, you can use your arms and delts progressively more, and keep the dumbbells from traveling outward as far to get additional reps, effectively turning the flyes into flye/presses.
  8. Forearms. The various types of wrist curls and reverse curls should always be done strictly. However, exercises that work the biceps as well as the brachialis (reverse curls, hammer curls) can be cheated.
  9. Hamstrings. By bringing your hips off the bench during lying leg curls, you incorporate your lower back and glutes to help with extra reps, but other ham exercises shouldn’t be cheated
  10. Abs. The key ab exercises do not lend themselves to cheating.

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