Cheating: Is It Necessary?

If you have to make sure that your ego doesn't make this an excuse to start cheating from the first rep - to impress the girl next to you in the gym or whatever it may think is vital for your survival. Find out if cheating is for you!
No, I'm not talking being unfaithful to ones spouse, I'm talking about the often-occurring cheating in the gym. You've all seen the guy that is supposed to do bicep curls and ends up loading on more weight than he'd do for deadlifts - and performs 3 reps of some kind of almost-obscene hip/back swinging motion.

Afterwards, he's bright red in the face and brags about how exhausted he is afterwards, topping it off with a lecture about the necessity of using heavy weights to grow. And through his entire workout, a closer look at his elbow-joint (which is the ONLY thing that matters when it comes to bicep-training) is hardly moving at all. Ergo: OTHER muscles than the biceps generate. The movement in his body. Needless to say, this guy will get zero gains at best and a nasty back-injury at worst.

The Right & Wrong Cheating

But is it really a matter of black & white, right or wrong? Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke about the benefits of controlled cheating 20 years ago, and proudly stated that he used cheating in almost every workout. Others speak of cheating like Monica Lewinsky speak of Linda Tripp. Both sides have a point, but what does this mean to YOU, in real life?

Let's take it from the top - there's two basics that MUST be fulfilled in order to promote muscle growth - the targeted muscle needs to work, and the work must overload the muscle in order to force it into growth.

The guy in my example above has focused so much on the latter that he forgot about the first part, and when no results comes, he interprets it as him going too light and makes it even worse by loading on even MORE weight next time! However, the other extreme is not that productive either, where you have this guy grinding out set after set with lightweights, watching the form like a hawk in the mirror.

Yes, he's disciplined. Yes, he avoids injury. Yes, he's much better off than the first guy. But is he packing hundreds of pounds of muscle? Probably not. The simple conclusion to draw from all this is that there has to be a middle way, where you avoid injury but can employ certain controlled cheating. When I say "controlled," I mean that you should use a weight so that the majority of your reps are done without cheating, but in order to grind the last ounce of power out (and avoiding the dreaded sticking-points) you do some disciplined cheating.

In order to avoid a sticking point in, say lateral raises for the shoulders, you can make this tiny bend on your knees, sort of "jumping" up the dumbbells through the critical point during the last few sets.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I put excess stress on some joint when doing this?
  • Am I putting the majority of the workload onto some other muscle?
  • Am I in some kind of bottom-position (as in a fully stretched-out joint)?
  • Am I "bouncing" the weight (as in at the bottom of a squat or bouncing a barbell on your chest when benching)?

How Do I Know If I Should Cheat?

If the answer is "Yes" to any of these questions, forget cheating or find some other way to cheat during that particular movement. In my example, I found the lateral raises to be all "No's" on the checklist, which is why I think it's safe to use controlled cheating. Once again, you have to make sure that your ego doesn't make this an excuse to start cheating from the first rep - to impress the girl next to you in the gym or whatever it may think is vital for your survival. The ego is like fire - it's a good servant but a bad master.

Easy Summary:

    OK: Using momentum, when not in a bottom-position.
    NOT OK: Involving other muscles, "bouncing".

You should also keep in mind that cheating in the positive phase, when you flex your muscles, you have absolutely zero reason to cheat on the way back down during the negative.

Why? Simply because you're about 40% stronger when going negative! If you want to go into detail about the pros and cons of positive/negative training, and what tricks YOU can use to boost your 1RM (1 rep maximum) in several basic strength movements in a short time.

Determine Your 1 Rep Max
(The Easy Way)

Weight Lifted In Pounds:

Number of Reps:

Your Approximate 1 Rep Max is

Another Popular Method
(The Hard Way)

Reps %1RM
1 100
2 95
3 90
4 88
5 86
6 83
7 80
8 78
9 76
10 75
11 72
12 70

This is how you use the table. Find the number of reps to concentric failure that you can perform with a certain weight. In other words, if you can only do eight reps with a certain weight and could not possible do another full rep, that is your point of failure. Find the percentage associated with that number of repetitions from the table above.

Now, divide the weight that you can do by that percentage using decimals (83 percent equals .83) and that will give you an approximation of your one repetition maximum. For example, if you can perform 10 reps with 175 lbs. in the bench press, that means that 175 lbs. is 75% (0.75) of your one repetition maximum. So you would take 175 divided by .75 and that would equal 233 lbs. You should probably use your calculator, we knew a guy who did it in his head and said he could bench 3000 lbs. Good luck!