Use Ghost Reps To Reduce Injury Rate

Today in the gym I watched a lady doing “squats”. I use quotes because her form was atrocious. It wasn’t really a squat, but more like a good morning where the knees give out at the last minute. Her torso was so far extended early in the movement that she had to crane her neck up lest the weight might roll forward.

Meanwhile her trainer kept chatting about her weekend. She didn’t get injured, but she easily could have.

One of the tricks I learned a long time ago is that it is often not enough to do a warm up set with a lighter weight. What we often need in movements with a high skill component is a mental warm-up. We need to execute a few reps using perfect form with no weight. Sometimes just the bar. Years ago I started calling these ghost reps.

Ghost reps have saved me from many injuries. I can always tell when I’m too stuff, too tired or lacking focus when I can’t execute a perfect rep without weight. It tells me I need to fix something before I load on weights or I better postpone that exercise to a future workout.

The absolute worst injury I ever got in the gym was throwing out my back doing a deadlift one morning with just 115 pounds. I couldn’t move for days. Had I done a few ghost reps, I think I would have detected something was off and not to proceed.

Ghost reps will have the most value with higher skilled movements, but I also use them after a long hiatus or when I need to gather focus for less skilled movements.

Even though I am older now, I never get injured. Although most of the credit goes to using machines in a slow controlled manner, I also credit a warm-up routine that accentuates positive body language and ghost reps.

Broad Squat

Photo by Ulf Liljankoski

This is what I call a ghost rep for a broad squat. Do this for a few reps before adding weight. As a side note, I don’t think it is smart to wear running shoes while squatting. See the article What Are The Best Weight Lifting Shoes for Squats & Deadlifts? for an explanation.



Add yours

  1. glenn whitney

    Jun 4, 2014 — 5:40 pm

    Good post. These are also sometimes referred to as “shadow” movements, as in “shadow boxing.”

    The Olympic Gold Medal winning rower Brad Lewis attributes a lot of success to shadow rowing – he and his partner would go through an entire 6 minute race in “shadow mode” – and they would do this in certain training periods several times per week.

  2. @Glenn – The similar names make sense. “Thought I saw a ghost, but it was just a shadow.”

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