In a lot of areas in life the word “cheating” has a very negative connotation. Cheating is bad in relationships, at school, at work, and virtually everywhere. But in the gym, people cheat all the time and are often encouraged too.
But should they?
Let’s look at the basic idea behind cheating. You are trying to use less than perfect form along with some sort of assistance (either a spotter helping or a jerky motion to help raise the weight) to lift a heavier weight than your muscles can handle.
People have been cheating for years. Arnold Schwarzenegger always used a lot of controlled cheating in his heyday of bodybuilding. Truth be told, he apparently used a bit of uncontrolled cheating later in life as well. But how helpful is it (the bodybuilding type)?
A guy works his way up on the bench press to 315 pounds. But to do those reps he arches his hips off the bench and literally bounces the weight off his chest while gasping out 3 repetitions. Not exactly competition form now is it?
A guy is doing barbell curls with 135 pounds. Each repetition involves a lot of hip swinging and shoulder movement to get the weight from the bottom to the top of the motion and he has zero control on the way down.
A guy is doing barbell curls with 80 pounds. After grinding out 6 repetitions with very clean form he uses a little bit of hip swing to get the motion started but still is able to control weight on the way down and grinds out another 3 reps.
So which example is correct? Number 3 of course.
Controlled cheating is a perfectly acceptable type of intensity training that can be used to push a muscle beyond basic failure. But the key that many people skip is actually getting the muscle to basic failure. They get so used to cheating that it becomes their standard form which then is not working the target muscle properly. Cheating, like drop sets and other intensity exercises, are simply a tool to be used after you can’t push your muscles any harder with a weight in relatively good form. It shouldn’t be used for every exercise and every set. Instead this should be an occasionally used technique to help push yourself a little further now and again along with getting past sticking points.
Dangers of Cheating
Injury is the biggest fear of cheating too much. Basically you are lifting a weight you can’t handle and using whatever methods to get it moving. More often than not this eventually causes a strain on other muscles, joints, or tendons. Do you really want to risk throwing out your back to curl an extra 20 pounds?
- Does this put excess stress on any joint?
- Is another muscle other than the primary muscle being worked?
- Is the weight out of control at any time?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions then you should not be cheating like that. You are putting yourself (and people around you) in danger. So take a minute to check your ego at the door and get back to focusing on working your muscles effectively, not just throwing plates around the gym.