There is a lot of controversy around the topic of training to failure. Like almost anything on the face of this earth, there is a good and a bad side to training to failure. The question you should be asking yourself is,”What can I benefit from it, and how can I do it correctly and safely?” I am going to take you through the guidelines of training to failure, what it is, how to do it, and help you to decide if you are ready for it.
What is Training to Failure?
Training to failure means doing so many reps that you physically can’t complete anything more. The objective is to induce the most muscle growth by pumping the maximum amount of blood to the targeted muscles, causing you to get the ultimate “PUMP“.
The Good, and The Bad of Training to Failure
As I said earlier, almost anything on earth has a good as well as a bad side. The trick is to master how you can benefit from the good while keeping the bad under control. Let’s start with the good side of training to failure.(TTF)
The Good Side…
Boost strength levels
Help you to break through plateaus
Get you the ultimate “PUMP”
Create an enormous stimulus for growth
Increase motor unit activation
Increase secretion of muscle-building hormones, like HGH and testosterone
Help strengthen your mind and willpower
The Bad Side…
If not managed properly, TTF can…
Tire your nervous system
Increase injury risk
Prolong recovery time
Cause beginners to lose proper form causing injuries
All of the above can cause demotivation and prolonged time away from your workout.
So How can You Perform TTF Safely and Effectively?
If you are just starting to workout, I would recommend staying away from TTF until you have mastered the correct form and muscle memory to complete moves properly. You don’t want to get injuries or be so sore that you can’t move after your first day of working out. Rather get a good foundation of skills and willpower before moving onto TTF. (at least 6 months to a year of continuous working out)
For the More Advanced
I challenge you to give TTF a try and then you can decide for yourself if this technique is working for you. (And I am sure it will)
The main basis of TTF is to ensure you maintain the right form throughout your sets. If you start losing form, even slightly, stop immediately! One of the main causes of workout injuries is improper form. And that is something that none of us want.
Weights and Reps
You need to lift around 80-85% of your 1 rep maximum weight and do from 12 to 20 reps per set.
Lighter weights and more reps? How is that going to do anything?
In a normal set, you lose 1 to 4% of your strength per rep. The longer the set lasts, the more decrement there is from rep to rep.
This means that in a set of 20 reps, you have a much larger strength drop from rep 19 to 20 than between reps 1 and 2. That’s because in the latter reps more fast twitch fibers are used causing fatigue faster. There’s also a greater accumulation of lactic acid hydrogen ions which interfere with muscle contraction.
How You Should Feel the Reps During Your Sets
Another way to make sure you are using right weight for your sets is to see when the fail rep is happening. If you are doing a 20 rep set, then the first 13 reps should be preparing your body for the working reps. This means that you should start feeling the burn from set 14 onwards. The rep that you should be hitting fail,(when you can’t finish the rep) is on rep 20.
Thus, if your fail rep is on the 16th rep, then your weight that you are using is too heavy. If you can complete rep 20, then your weight is too light. It will take some trial and error to perfect, but once you master it, you will be getting all the good stuff from your TTF workout.
The Best Time and Place to Take Your Sets to Failure.
When you are targeting smaller muscle groups: If you take all of your curls to failure, it won’t really create a lot of damage or stress to your CNS, most times you can target your arms, calves and even your shoulders hard.
On ANY exercises where you are lacking in strength or stamina.
On the last work set of an exercise. Unless you are performing taxing exercises like deadlifts or squats, or you have another exercise that is going to target the same muscle group.
On the week prior to a break from working out. Maybe your routine is unusually busy and the following week or you are going on vacation.
During strength testing.
When you are only going to do one set.
Now that you know what Training To Failure is, you can ask yourself these questions to truly see if you are ready to get started with TTF
Question 1: How Intense is Your Training Plan?
Training intensity is maybe the most important factor in deciding whether or not training to failure will be effective. Training intensity refers to the percentage of weight being lifted in relation to an individual’s 1-repetition maximum
Question 2: What is Your Training Level?
Are you a beginner, intermediate or advanced at working out? Beginners should not attempt TTF as they should rather be focusing on getting their form as close to perfect as possible. Intermediates and advanced have a good knowledge of form and can start using TTF to balance out weaknesses and boost muscle growth.
Question 3: What are Your Goals?
Are you a powerlifter or a bodybuilder?
Powerlifters are focused on maximal strength development and consequently train at relatively high intensities of their 1 rep max and they don’t focus on compound movements too much.
Bodybuilders focus more on improving muscle hypertrophy and train at lower intensities of their 1 rep maximum. They also tend to more targeted movements designed to target individual body parts, which require less skill to maintain proper technique.
Keeping these differences in mind, it will be more beneficial to bodybuilders as they will reach failure more often than powerlifters.
Question 4: Do You Have the Right Mindset?
Some individuals derive pleasure from training to failure, others do not and might attempt to force the rep. This will make them dislike strength training. Understanding your mindset and how you respond to training is very important to long-term program adherence.
Question 5: What Exercises Are You Doing?
Training to failure on very complex exercises can be dangerous. It is always better to train to failure on simpler multi-joint and single joint exercises that are easy to perform and on smaller muscle groups.
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Now that you have the rundown on training to failure, please be sure to add your questions and comments in the section below.