Cheating during a workout is not like cheating in games. Because it can make a real difference. But you have to do it right or it gets you nowhere. Here is Part II of Wolf’s series on less discussed bodybuilding topics!
Cheating The Right Way
I am a firm believer in the value of using good form in training. The important, albeit somewhat overlooked part of the progressive overload principle states that the added weight must always be moved in good form to make it count. That being said, an advanced trainee whose progress is as slow as a bar moving through mid-point on a max bench press grind should, occasionally, deviate from the good form rule and cheat some of his movements.
Let me put up a clear definition right away: cheating is using momentum to negate the effect of a sticking point in ROM of the positive part of the rep. And that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Note that, although in effect similar to forced reps, cheating presumes that you’re working out alone, with no one to help you (like a partner can help you lift the weight on a bench press). Because of this, cheating must be safe, controlled and efficient.
The “safe” part means that you should never cheat exercises like squats, deadlifts (any variant), bench presses (by bouncing the bar off the chest), or bent-over rows. Bent-over rows are actually somewhat tricky because they can be cheated with minimal risk, but most people can’t do it properly, so I stay away from recommending this practice in the first place. Exercises that can be cheated include chins, overhead presses and various isolations (the most famous being the cheat curl).
The “controlled” part means that cheating doesn’t equate to swinging the weights around like an ape gone amok. Most of the time, using the momentum, in effect, removes the concentric (positive) part of the lift, therefore, to make any use of the rep, the static (top contraction) and eccentric (negative) parts should be accentuated.
This is also “efficient” cheating, because you’re actually getting some good work from it. Sure, you can cheat in such a way that some work is still done on the positive, but this requires the sticking point to be somewhere in the lower part of ROM (like presses, unlike pulls). Surely, practice and experience will, eventually, tell you how to pick enough momentum to make even the positive of an end-ROM-sticking-point exercise count.
The Cheat Curl Example
Let’s use the most famous and obvious example to illustrate how cheating should be done, the cheat curl. An important part is starting the positive using momentum. Most people begin the rep in normal fashion, and then suddenly perform some jerky movement when the bar slows down. Again, the concentric part doesn’t concern us, so start the rep by immediately using some momentum.
Knowing how much momentum to use requires practice and experience, but a good rule of thumb is to use just enough that the bar starts naturally slowing down as you approach the top of the rep. There you hold the contraction for at least a second (a longer static hold than you’d normally do), and then proceed to do an accentuated eccentric. In general, you can say that a cheat curl is done on a 30X1 or even a 40X2 tempo.
The Push Press In Cheating
We shall conclude this article by saying a few words on the push press. A push press is not a cheating variant of the regular (overhead) press. It is actually an advanced exercise which has a lot more to it than simply using your legs to help the bar accelerate upwards. It is also an example of the exercise where the momentum doesn’t (and shouldn’t) eliminate the positive.
Moreover, I consider that, unlike other “cheating” exercises, push presses should be done regularly alongside strict presses, the reason being that the more advanced you get, a weak link in the ROM gets more problematic, making the already painful progress on the press even harder. This can become an issue since your other poundages, namely on the bench press, should already be quite high in comparison, which can, in the long run, lead to imbalances and shoulder problems. The push press then comes in handy by allowing you to handle a heavier weight over head.
Just a reminder, these techniques are advanced and presume being able to train with good form and having enough control of the movements and mind-to-muscle connection to actually make the risk of cheating an exercise minimal and worthwhile.
Up next: More Work for Calves without Calf Isolations!