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How to Train to Failure

Increase the Intensity of Your Workouts for Fast Muscle Gains

By Robert Rousseau, Bodyomics.com
It's always interesting to consider things out of context. For instance, would any psychologist or counselor tell the client in their office that they should do something to failure? Probably not. Yet somehow training to failure is regularly spoken of in regard to fitness and health.

Interesting.

Along with this, some professionals believe that training to failure when it comes to working out is more beneficial than others. But we digress. First:


How does one train to failure and what is the idea behind it?

Training to failure is for the most part a weightlifting term. In essence, it refers to a weightlifting or resistance training workout or plan designed so that the practitioner will fail during a lifting set. For example, let's say a practitioner is doing five sets of five repetitions with curls. That person may decide on the last set to go until exhaustion (until they cannot do anymore or fail).

FAILURE: A CLOSER LOOK

In terms of the process of training to failure, there are some Weider principles to consider. Before going into them, however, it would seem necessary to note that you do not train to failure on every set. That would be harmful to your health and training goals. Easily, this could be labeled overtraining. Rather, training to failure is a phenomenon you might want to try on one set per exercise at most (usually the last set). Further, you should consider not training to failure on exercises where if you fail harm will occur to your body (examples: bench press and squat). It's best to seek professional guide on this, or at least check out instructional videos from credible video websites.

The idea behind training to failure is to overload the muscle with a stress that it has never experienced before. Thus, it will be forced to grow. Beyond that, training to failure is a good way to learn about your baseline. Still, the research reinforcing the potential benefits of training to failure is not necessarily strong.

Interestingly, muscle failure is not caused by lactic acid build-up. Rather, muscle fatigue or failure emanates from the nervous system rather than from the muscle fibers themselves. Thus, when significant and extreme neural fatigue is experienced, temporary muscle failure can occur.

Said from a slightly different angle, your mind or the rest of your body shuts down your muscles well before the muscles actually fail under most circumstances. As Greg Merrit once wrote, "After all, there are stories about slender women, flush with adrenaline, who have hoisted cars to free trapped children. That should be all the proof you need that your body is capable of much more than your mind usually lets it attempt."

Enough said on that.

In terms of the process of training to failure, there are some Weider principles to consider. Before going into them, however, it would seem necessary to note that you do not train to failure on every set. That would be harmful to your health and training goals. Easily, this could be labeled overtraining. Rather, training to failure is a phenomenon you might want to try on one set per exercise at most (usually the last set). Further, you should consider not training to failure on exercises where if you fail harm will occur to your body (examples: bench press and squat).

That said, most of us have seen people train to failure on the bench with a spotter on multiple occasions.


Five different ways to handle your failure repetition

Cheat: This is the Weider principle that you may want to steer clear of. That said, when you hit the wall on curls, you could mildly throw your back into it to get that final rep. Has everyone that has ever lifted weights done something like this? Yep. Does that make the dangers of hurting yourself when cheating any less dangerous?

Nope. Still, it is an option that most lifters have utilized.

Partial Reps: This one is better. When you're about to fail at the full exercise, do some partial reps to end things off.

Rest: This is an interesting notion. Why not put the weight down, rest for 10-15 seconds, and then do another two to three reps? In fact, you could do this in a repeated manner for a few sets.

Lessen the weight: If you can't do another rep with 100 pounds, why not try 90 pounds until exhaustion? In fact, you could even continue to lessen the weight as you reach failure from there.

This should only be used for exercises where you can quickly change weights.

Forced reps: You need a spotter for this one. Basically, your spotter helps you finish reps. It's that simple.


Warnings regarding training to failure

First, anytime you train to failure you could be at the brink of injury. More often than not this isn't the case. Still, it's important to remember. For this reason and more, training to failure, once again, is not an every set thing. In other words, training to failure too often is not a good idea.

Second, anytime you change the way you do an exercise (cheating, for example) you can be injured. This is why the cheating idea, even when mild, is probably the least effective. In fact, one could argue that it should never be followed.

In addition, the research regarding the effectiveness of training to failure is scant at best. Is it effective? Some professionals swear by it; others do not.

Finally, no exercise program should be started or considered without contacting a medical professional and professional trainer about it. No article can take the place of this, and this article is not designed in any way to do so either. Rather, it is just a compilation of some ideas regarding training to failure.


Nutrition

As a side note that should never be a side note, nutrition is as key to training to failure as it is with any workout program. Along with this, eating some carbohydrates 1-4 hours before training may be beneficial. Further, there are some other general considerations regarding nutrition in your daily life that you could follow listed below.

1. Eat lean proteins. 2. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. 3. Take a multivitamin 4. Hydrate before working out 5. Consider eating some carbs to reload after workouts 6. And, of course, don't drink, smoke, or do drugs.

References

Is Going to Failure Necessary?

Five Weider principles that allow you to train past failure

Endurance Nutrition

Weight Training

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