How To Use The Cheating Principle

Using the cheating principle is one of the most common ways to add intensity to your training and get the most out of a set.  The problem is that it is also one of the most misused and incorrectly implemented principles. Basically, it involves using momentum, or a bit of body swing to initiate a repetition within the course of a set to add intensity to the movement.  The key to this is when it is used and how it is used.

Cheating reps should typically be performed at the end of a normal set of repetitions when maintaining strict form is no longer possible.  At this time, just enough momentum is employed to allow the completion of 2-3 more repetitions.   The weight still remains under control (especially the eccentric or lowering phase) through the full range of motion.  The form should not be overly compromised beyond the initial momentum, and never to the point of injury risk.

The entire purpose of using the cheat principle is to add intensity to your training with the goal of stimulating adaption and growth.  Cheating should make a normal set harder to do.  A big mistake is that some trainees use cheating to make the set easier.  They use a weight that is too heavy and swing it up with excess momentum. (Note – Im not referring to power training movements like cleans or olympic lifting movements that are designed to be done explosively, or even specialized performance movements like “kipping”.  I’m referring to “normal” exercises that are being incorrectly modified just to move a weight from point A to point B).

If you are “cheating” from rep one, the weight is probably too heavy.   You are simply using momentum to enable the use a weight that you can’t properly manage.  You are actually taking stress away from the muscle you are trying to train.  By first completing all the reps you can with good form using an appropriate weight, then employing cheating or momentum to do 2-3 additional reps, you are actually making the set more difficult and the muscles have to work harder.  This will increase the intensity of the set and ideally stimulate new growth.

Cheating, just like any intensity principle won’t be effective if it is overused or used incorrectly.  Limit your sets involving cheating to 1-2 sets, on just 1-2 exercises for each body part, for no more than 2-3 reps per set.  More is not better!  “Stimulate, don’t annihilate!” as former Mr. Olympia Lee Haney would say.

Making progress in training can often be a challenge.  Finding different ways to add intensity and stimulate the body to respond can be a key to new progress.  The cheating principle, when used properly, can be an easy way to target greater intensity to try and stimulate new growth.

Photo: Terry Goodlad    Model: Valorie Annunziata

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