Special Sets and Reps #2: Extended Sets, Breakdowns, Forced Reps, Negative Reps

Joe Kenn | Vice President of Performance Education







Varying workloads is as important to avoiding stagnation as is varying movements. Keeping the athlete engaged is always a key in athletic based strength training for all sports. In this article, we will discuss several other avenues to enhance work load and effort.


Extended Sets

Extended Sets are a personal favorite of mine for accessory work. This set combines a heavier set of 6 repetitions followed by a weight reduction of approximately 50-75% for a set of 10. This gives the athlete a chance to use a sub maximal load for basic strength development followed by a set of 10 for hypertrophy enhancement and additional volume.

The recommended rest time is as minimal as possible, but at times a 15 second cap is acceptable if the 6rm load is taxing. The other recommendation that can increase the effectiveness of the set is altering tempo for the 6-rep set and the 10-rep set. I recommend a strong pause and controlled eccentric (what is the perfect rep) for the 6-rep set and more of a rhythm tempo for the 10-rep set. I have added some examples of tempo changes in two of the 3 videos on extended set training. The Lateral Raise and Behind Head Pulldown show a difference in tempo.

Reminder: this is a single exercise set.

Breakdown Sets

Breakdown Sets are similar to Extended Sets in that it is a single exercise set and rest time can be adjusted with minimal to a 15 second cap in between. Breakdown sets can be done two ways, one, with no particular prescribed repetitions or two, a specific number can be given to each set. I prefer a specific prescribed rep scheme, but if you are using it as a finisher, you can push the athlete to momentary muscular failure before adjusting the load.

The premise of the breakdown set is to start with the heaviest load prescribed and then reduce the load in equal increments each time the previous set was completed. Usually a minimal of 3 breakdowns can be prescribed with a coach’s choice maximum. Depending on the exercise it could be up to 10 total sets. I prefer 3-6 breakdowns.

We have added a video of a dumbbell curl breakdown set for multiple breakdowns of 5 reps.

The is by far a bodybuilding principle, but for a change a pace, is a “fun” way to change up training.

Special Reps

Here are two additional practices that are utilized in various training settings, Forced Reps and Negative Reps.

Forced Reps

Forced Reps are the most commonly used of the two and is primarily implemented for upper body movements. This is a spotter assisted movement. In this case, you as the coach must do a tremendous job of coaching the spotter on how to perform his/her role.

Forced Reps are reps that are done when the athlete has reached momentary muscular failure. At the time of momentary muscular failure, the spotter guides the athlete through several additional reps applying the minimal needed assistance for the athlete to complete the desired number of reps.

The spotter applies enough help so the athlete can still perform the exercise through a full range of motion. The goal is for the athlete to the majority of the work and spotter to guide/assist as needed. This is usually done for 2 to 4 reps after reaching muscular failure.

Negative Reps

Various forms of Eccentric Training have been around for a long time in the strength world. There are several ways that it has been implemented with the oldest being Negative Reps. Like Forced Reps, the spotter(s) are the most important part of the implementation of these reps. The spotters have a greater responsibility in Negative Reps compared to Forced Reps.

Negative Reps isolate the eccentric portion of the lift (the descent or lowering phase). In the traditional prescription, the athlete will use 30-40% above their 1RM. The athlete slowly lowers the bar under extreme control until they reach the midpoint of the movement. At this point, the spotter(s) help the athlete complete the concentric portion of the movement. In the traditional sense, the athlete performing the rep does very little work during this phase of the lift.

Negative Reps are usually done as a separate set because of the amount of load being utilized. If utilized, my recommendations are 1-3 sets for 1-3 reps done at the beginning of the training session after a thorough pre activity preparation phase and implementing the proper preparation progression. In a real-world setting, I would not recommend traditional Negative Reps with athletes. Professional Powerlifters is a different story.

There are several alternatives to the traditional model of Negatives. Here are the two most commonly used. The athlete can utilize weight releasers, where there is additional load added to the bar with bar attachments and when the athlete reaches the midpoint, the additional weight “releases” from the bar and the athlete finishes the rep this usually done with loads of 80-90% with an additional 10% on the weight releasers. Sub Max Eccentrics are eccentric based reps where the athlete slowly lowers the load for a prescribed count and the completes the concentric portion of the lift on their own. Sub Max Eccentrics is my choice for accentuated the eccentric portion of a movement.

In summary, these above sets and reps are to help the coach and athlete understand the various ways to stimulate strength and growth. Regardless of if I agree or disagree with their implementation in an athletic based training program, it is my role to introduce any training principle and modality to you. It is up to you to “Absorb, Modify, and Apply” the information that best suits your needs.

For More on Sets and Reps check out these previous blogs:

Note: This is Part 2 of a 2 Part Series (View Part 1)

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