How strict should your form be when you perform an exercise? Should you never swing up the weight on a bicep curl? Should you never lean back a little on a seated cable row? Where do you draw the line? When is it “bad form” and when is it a “cheat rep”?
First, let’s try to define was “bad form” is. Each weight lifting exercise has a proper technique or motion in which it should be performed. Usually this involves keeping the weight being used under control, keeping the rest of the body steady while you perform the required movement, maintaining a steady controlled speed of repetition, etc. Bad form, therefore, is when the proper form of the exercise is not followed. The weight is “flung” up and down, the reps are performed at lightning speed to generate swing, the body is contorted into crazy positions to move the weight, etc. Bad form can be very dangerous. Weight lifters can easily injure themselves performing exercises with bad form. Often times, bad form is the result of trying to use to much weight on a particular exercise. Other times it is simply the result of not knowing how to perform the exercise correctly.
How do you know if you are performing an exercise with bad form? You can have the worst form in the world and might never know it. The key is to get constructive feedback from either your trainer partner, other gym members, or your personal trainer. Accept the feedback in a positive light and try to improve your form. It is very important to learn correct form on all exercises. It will prevent injuries and allow you to make better progress with your workouts.
Now that we understand what bad form consist of, we can define “cheat reps”. Sometimes an advanced lifter is trying to increase weight on a particular exercise. They know how to perform the exercise with proper form. However, they may want to use a little more weight than usual to try to break past a plateau. Therefore instead of performing 10 perfect reps with 100 pounds they may only be able to perform 8 perfect reps when they increase the weight to 110 pounds. To break past that plateau, they may perform a couple of “cheat reps” to get to 10 reps. For example, if we are talking about standing barbell bicep curls, the individual may “swing” the weight up (slightly to moderately) to achieve a 9th and 10th rep. Why isn’t this considered bad form? Primarily because the individual knows how to perform the exercise correctly, they are just “cheating” a couple of reps to help break through a plateau. Cheat reps, when used correctly by an experienced lifter, can be a valuable tool for breaking past plateaus and building strength/muscle.
I usually don’t recommend cheat reps to weight lifters unless they are fairly experienced. An inexperienced weight lifter will often turn a couple of “cheat reps” into an entire set of just plain “bad form”.
My recommendation? Get your form down on every exercise. Use a weight that you can handle but is challenging. When the time is right, you will know when to utilize an occasional cheat rep into your workout.