Article last updated: December 2017 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
When you get started with the SKINNY-FAT TRANSFORMATION Bodyweight Program, my default advice is that you use good technique on all exercises.
Good technique ensures that you develop all your muscles while minimising the risk of injury.
With that said, there are some skinny-fat guys who can’t make consistent progress on the chin up using good form.
It’s most often those of you who are low responders to training or tall guys with very low starting strength levels and small bone-structures.
If that’s you, using cheat reps will help you speed up progress.
There are three ways to use cheat reps on the chin up:
- Cutting down on range-of-motion. Example: Only going half-way down on chin ups.
- Using momentum. Example: You drop yourself from the top position of the chin up, then “bounce” out of the bottom. By dropping yourself and bouncing out of the bottom, you create momentum which makes the next rep much easier.
- Swinging. Example: You kick your legs up to your chest on chin ups to generate extra force.
The more you cut range-of-motion and the more momentum and swinging you use, the easier each rep becomes.
Your muscles do less work and you put more stress on the joints.
When you use cheat reps, you are increasing your risk of injury in exchange for faster progress.
As a result, you need to use cheat reps as a last resort.
You should only use cheat reps if your upper body is 100% injury free and you aren’t able to make consistent progress on the chin up.
My definition of consistent progress is that you are able to add one rep to your chin up max once every 2 weeks on the SKINNY-FAT TRANSFORMATION Bodyweight Program.
These guidelines work all the way from 1 to 15 chin ups since the chin up turns into an endurance exercise after you achieve 15 clean reps.
This means that over a 12 week period, you want to increase your chin up max with 6 reps and over a 24 week period you want to increase it with 12 reps.
Once you can do your first full chin up, it should take you no longer than 6-7 months to complete the Phase 1 goal of doing 15 chin ups.
If you are following my bodyweight and you’re seeing slower gains than the numbers above, you are a true low responder to training and you may want to experiment with cheat reps.
Cheat reps are the only way that true low responders can achieve progressive overload in their training.
We need that extra push to stimulate progress.
I know this because I’m a low responder to training and I’ve trained dozens of guys who are low responders.
I didn’t go from 0 chin ups to doing weighted chin ups with 100 pounds by using perfect form all the time.
I strategically used cheat reps to stimulate progress.
Cheat reps will help you progress faster and eventually you will be able to do more reps and weight without using cheat reps.
For example, if you start at 2 chin ups and you use momentum and swinging to get to 15 chin ups, you will most likely be able to do anywhere from 7-9 chin ups with perfect form after.
The key is to get the progression benefits of cheat reps while staying injury free.
Here are the 5 rules of using cheat reps that will help you stay injury free:
- Don’t use cheat reps if you’ve previously been injured. It’s not worth the risk.
- Only use cheat reps if you can’t progress consistently with clean form.
- Only use cheat reps on the FIRST set of your main exercises. The first set is the most important for achieving progressive overload since you are fresh and you have the highest likelihood of beating your old max.
- Use the minimum dose required. If you can stimulate progress with just a bit of momentum and swinging on the last 1-2 reps, then that’s all you should do.
- Don’t push through pain. If you start feeling any joint pain, don’t keep pushing through it. There will be some days where your body simply can’t handle cheat reps, so you have to drop your ego and listen to your body.
Also, remember that the end goal of cheat reps is to eventually be able to do more sets and reps with good form.
This requires that you do most of your training with good form and only use cheat reps sparingly.
If you’re always using cheat reps (like most people do), you will lose out on a lot of strength and muscle development.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer