What Are Negative Reps, Strip Sets, Dead Stops and Forced Reps?

You must continuously challenge your body, so it can adapt and improve.

This means increasing workout intensity to move past your current state and ensure continuous muscle growth, strength, endurance, and physique gains.

Simply put: You can’t stay stagnant. You must continuously challenge your muscles to take your athletic abilities to the next level.

But how can you actually challenge your muscles to ensure consistent gains? What specific training protocols could you use based on fitness level and goals?

In this article, we will discuss the best training protocols for enhancing workout intensity, so you can improve your muscle growth and athletic abilities in the gym.

There’s a bit of truth in the timeless statement: “No pain, no gain.” Essentially, if things are too easy, you can’t make progress.

Engaging in high-intensity training sensation and making your exercises more difficult enhances muscle fiber recruitment, which expands your growth potential as more fibers build contractile strength.

The harder your workouts, the more your body works, and anabolic hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormones, are crucial for signaling the body to switch to muscle-building mode and repair.

Negative reps focus on slowing down the lowering phase of an exercise, also known as the eccentric phase. Many of your muscle activation happen during the negative phase, where the muscles are lengthened while under load.

The extra time under tension and mechanical stress of negative reps enhances muscle damage signals that support growth. This offers a highly targeted way to intensify lift to break through fitness plateaus.

It is about being mindful of the lift tempo and emphasizing the lift during the negative phase. You can maximize the benefits of negative reps if you perform them on exercises you could do in a full range of motion. Negative pull-ups are particularly great in activating the muscles of the back while providing eccentric loads to the lats.

Negative reps’ benefits:

  • Emphasizes time under tension during the most effective contraction of muscle
  • Produces greater level of mechanical tension in muscles
  • Provides significant metabolic stress and necessary muscle damage

Negative reps example:

Exercise Parameters Instructions
Barbell bicep curl
  • Set 1 -> 3: 60lbs x 6-8 reps
  • Tempo:
    • 3 seconds negative
    • 1 second pause at the bottom
    • 1 second lifting phase
  • Set 4: 45lbs x 8-10 reps
  • Tempo:
    • 5 seconds negative
    • no pause
    • 1 second lifting phase
Focus on the tempo. Don’t use momentum.

If fatigue sets in, you can have a partner to assist you in lifting weight, so you can lower it slowly.

Strip sets progressively reduce the weight lifted in each successive set while minimizing rest periods. These continuous lifts with varying loads with limited recovery compound metabolic stress and fatigue.

Different chemicals, such as lactate and growth factors, accumulate in the muscles due to continued muscle contractions, which provides necessary metabolic stress. Reducing the weight of each set ensures you achieve higher rep ranges despite fatigue.

Strip sets’ benefits:

  • Allows for accumulated fatigue and metabolic stress
  • Enables higher rep ranges despite using heavy loads
  • Builds mental toughness

Strip sets example:

Exercise Parameters Instructions
  • Set 1: 200 lbs x 6 reps
  • Rest for 1 minute
  • Set 2: 180 lbs x 8 reps
  • Rest for 1 minute
  • Set 3: 160 lbs x 10 reps
  • Rest for 1 minute
  • Set 4: 130 lbs x 12-15 reps
Reduce the weight / load for each set.

Rest for no more than 1 minute in between sets.

By manipulating volume, load, and intensity, strip sets produce tons of lactate in the muscle. This metabolite richly stimulates anabolic processes that enhance muscle growth and break plateaus. In addition, completing higher rep ranges despite fatigue also builds mental toughness.

Dead stops focus on pausing briefly at the bottom of a lift to eliminate the stretch-contraction cycle. This removes the recoil of the muscles to start each rep from a dead stop. This eliminates momentum and provides tons of challenge in a lift.

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On a neurological level, dead stops enhance intramuscular coordination as more muscle fibers activate to begin moving the stalled weight. The pause also increases time under tension, providing more significant mechanical overload. Forced controlled reps boost strength gains.

Drop stops’ benefits:

  • Increased time under tension
  • Eliminates stretch-shortening cycle, allowing greater isolated overload
  • Enhances control and muscle activation

Drop stops example:

Exercise Parameters Instructions
Overhead press
  • Set 1: 95 lbs x 6 reps with a 3-second pause just before the bottom.
  • Set 2: 105 lbs x 5 reps with a 3-second pause just before the bottom.
  • Set 3: 85 lbs x 8 reps with a 3-second pause just before the bottom.

The key is to stop the movement just before reaching the end of your range of motion.

Mixing different loads and reps in each set can also help in breaking plateaus.

Pause for at least 3 seconds.

Don’t let muscle recoil happen.

Don’t let gravity / momentum take over.

A 50% set is about doing additional work output at the end of a workout set. This means performing an additional set at half (50%) the weight used during your initial sets.

By dramatically reducing the weight after a couple of initial sets, you can keep the volume high without accumulating excessive fatigue. This provides you with increased blood flow and muscle pumps without overtaxing your body.

50% sets’ benefits:

  • Can perform higher training volume without over-fatiguing
  • Heightens blood flow and muscle pumps
  • Provides active recovery while expanding work capacity

50% sets example:

Exercise Parameters Instructions
Barbell rows
  • Set 1: 185 lbs x 6 reps
  • Set 2: 185 lbs x 6 reps
  • Set 3: 50% - 95 lbs x 12 reps
Ensure a high volume of reps at the last set.

You could perform the last set until failure.

Here’s a plan for women that will include strength training protocols:

And for men:

If you like working with a training partner or coach, forced reps might be effective for you. This protocol involves having a spotter provide just enough assistance to complete additional repetitions past the point of failure.

This protocol is highly subjective. This enables extending a set beyond what your muscles can currently lift on their own. The idea is to reach peak metabolic stress by going beyond your current capacity to allow your muscles to adapt to greater loads.

Forced reps’ benefits:

Forced reps example:

Exercise Parameters Instructions
Barbell bench press
  • Set 1: 225 x 6 reps to failure
  • Forced Reps: 225 x 3 forced reps with assistance
  • Set 2: 225 x 6 reps to failure
  • Forced reps: 225 x 1-2 forced reps with assistance
Have a spotter. After reaching failure, have your spotter assist you to complete additional reps until complete failure.

Find a competent training partner, coach, or spotter to help you with force reps.

These protocols can be done to provide more challenge in your workouts and break through plateaus. However, having foundational strengths before performing advanced training techniques to enhance muscle growth is essential.

Safety should always be your top priority in your fitness journey. Ensure you are properly hydrated, have lots of rest, and are in an optimal state of mind to avoid injuries.

Performing different exercise protocols that target intensity could enhance muscle growth strength and level up your fitness potential.

Essentially, these protocols have similar goals and effects on your training. Ultimately, you will decide what the best protocols are for you.

Changing things up in your training routine does not hurt either; try switching up your protocols occasionally so you can continuously challenge your muscles.

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