Cheating the Right Way

by: Josh Bryant

Cheating generally means attempting to get something for nothing at someone else’s expense.

Cheating can also mean running around on your old lady at the Honky Tonk Bar, a frivolous lawsuit, taking a handout when not needed, posting pictures not reflective of your ice cream-drinking-Netflix-pandemic binge on the online dating site as you rack up right swipes.

Cheating is not a good thing!

There is one exception; when you are pounding the pig iron.

This form of cheating adds intensity to your training with purpose of stimulating adaptation and growth.

Cheating, done right, makes a normal set a ball buster.

Cheating, properly applied, means swinging a weight past a sticking point; on a front raise, it’s a slight hip bump out of the bottom; on a bent-over row it’s a slight vertical pull on the way up; a “kip” to finish off your last rep on pull-up.

Keep in mind, if you are cheating from rep one, the weight is too heavy!! REREAD THAT.

When you are executing a cheating movement, using the curl again as an example, you use some swing to complete the movement, you finish the movement with the target muscle, the biceps, which have effectively been overloaded. 

Swinging the weight all the way up is counterproductive and serves no purpose to strength and hypertrophy training. 

When cheating, on the negative portion of the rep, lower it under control because not only do you have the capabilities to handle up to 160 percent of what you can on a positive, but you would rob yourself of the hypertrophy that can be gained on a controlled eccentric. A controlled eccentric takes a couple of seconds to lower the weight. An uncontrolled drop not only will kiss your gains goodbye but will open the door to a life of arthritis and getting aquatinted with your  local orthopedic surgeon.

Cheating is an advanced lifter (see the chart above), high-intensity technique; it should not be used every workout! 

Use it infrequently on body parts you are trying to bring up; you know those stubborn ones that just can’t figure out they are supposed to grow.

Here are some cheat exercises that advanced bodybuilders have used effectively:

  • Shoulders-Front Raises
  • Arms-Cheat Curls
  • Back-Bent-Over Rows

While we never bow down to the ivory tower or kiss the lab coat’s ass, it is worth noting that one study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology revealed the effectiveness of cheating in selected movements. The study examined the lateral raise, done in a strict style and aided by initial momentum to get the weight moving. The authors concluded, “A moderate use of external momentum increases both the per-repetition peak torque and the total hypertrophy stimulus in a set.” In layman’s terms, the target muscles receive more stimulation with moderate cheating, which leads to greater muscle growth.

(The authors warned excessive cheating results in lower demands on the target muscles, and decreases time under tension.)

The lesson here is use cheating to push through sticking points, not as a measure of manhood. Cheating correctly overloads the targeted muscles without aiding the strong part of the movements.

Here is where cheating is effective:

Training Past Failure: Once you hit failure with strict form, keep on trucking! Use some momentum to continue the set. This allows you to do so without pausing or reducing the weight on the bar, while maintaining maximum intensity. The lifter with a strong mind-muscle connection and a high pain tolerance will thrive. Although like forced reps, with cheating movements, you are not at the mercy of a spotter. Letting you be in control of your hypertrophy destiny!

Psychological Boost: Knowing that you have handled a weight in a cheating style boosts your confidence for when you attempt the same lift in a strict style.

Control the Negative: Numerous studies show the effectiveness of heavy negatives on muscle growth. You can handle up to 160 percent more on a negative than a positive. Control the negative portion of the rep in a strict style when cheating on the positive and you will grow bigger and become stronger.

Mechanical Tension, Metabolic Stress, and Muscle Damage: Cheating correctly creates greater tension in a muscle. By cheating, a set can be taken past traditional notions of failure to greatly increase metabolic stress. Additionally, you can use increased loads that offer greater time under tension, heavy eccentrics, and muscle damage (in this instance, a good thing).  Therefore, through cheating, you achieve the three catalysts for sparking muscle hypertrophy.

When Not To Cheat: Risk of injury aside, if you are a competitive lifter, do not cheat on core lifts. Basketball players don’t get better at free throws by practicing with bad form and missing free throws. Similarly, powerlifters don’t get better at the big three lifts by practicing with bad form. Powerlifting is a skill, people get stronger without ever increasing their body weight because they become neurologically more efficient or, in other words, get “better” at the big three lifts.

This advanced training principle can help you cheat your way to gains!

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