Solo Gym Tips

Vol. 2

Unilateral forced and negative reps

A forced rep is when a trainer or training partner helps you during the eccentric phase of an exercise. This can be done alone by using unilateral exercises. For example, if you reach failure doing single arm dumbbell curls, use your non-working arm to assist your working arm so you can squeeze out a few more reps. Unilateral forced reps can be used for most dumbbell moves, using the smith machine, and on leg exercises like leg extensions and leg curls.

Negative reps are slowing down or even holding the concentric or negative portion of a exercise. The obstacle in doing this alone is that to really get the most out of negative reps is to use a weight that is heavier than you normally use. With a trainer or training partner assisting you, together you’d get the weight up and then you would lower it in a controlled, slow manner. Again to utilize this technique we turn to unilateral exercises. As with unilateral forced reps, using your non working limb is key to this technique. Bench press for example can be done on the smith machine with one arm. Using both arms to lift the weight and lowering it slowly with one, at the bottom use both arms to push the bar back up. Repeat for the other side.

Bonus: Unilateral work is also great for correcting and preventing muscle imbalances.

Pre/post exhaust

Pre and post exhaust are excellent ways of making sure you put as much strain on a muscle group as possible. With pre-exhausting, you would use an isolation exercise, such as leg extensions, before doing a compound exercise such as squats. The danger here is that after pre-exhausting a muscle, form may suffer and injuries could be more likely without assistance. A safe way of utilizing this technique is to pre-exhaust with an isolation exercise, perform the compound exercise not-quite-to failure, then reach failure with another isolation exercise where the risk of injury is significantly lower. For example: use side or front dumbbell raises to pre-exhaust the shoulder muscle of choice, then use overhead presses as the compound exercise, then for a post-exhaust either go back to lateral raises or sub those out for a rear delt exercise, like flys.


Dr. Jim Stoppani

  1. Ahtiainen, J. P., Pakarinen, A., Kraemer, W. J., & Häkkinen, K. (2003). Acute hormonal and neuromuscular responses and recovery to forced vs maximum repetitions multiple resistance exercises. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 24(6), 410-418.
  2. G E Fincher, I. I. (2003). The effect of high intensity resistance training on body composition among collegiate football players. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 35(5), S324.
  3. Yarrow, J. F., Borsa, P. A., Borst, S. E., Sitren, H. S., Stevens, B. R., & White, L. J. (2007). Neuroendocrine responses to an acute bout of eccentric-enhanced resistance exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(6), 941-947.

Author: NFShealth

Certified personal trainer, grad student in nutrition. Obsessed about all things regarding nutrition and health.

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