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Training to Failure

By Denver Steyn on December 18, 2013

When it comes to weight training, there is a common approach to “go hard or go home”. This gives people a sense of satisfaction and belief that because they have pushed their body to the absolute limit, it will result in a bigger and stronger physique.

While this is a great way to show your mad desire and dedication to work hard, I believe there is such a thing as training smarter, not harder for optimal strength and hypertrophy results.

Instead of training to complete failure, I prefer to train to a point of what I call momentary failure. This means pushing way outside of my comfort zone but generally keeping 1-2 reps left in the tank. This allows my body to recover faster and has less temporary stress on my central nervous system. With sufficient rest, I am able to reserve enough energy to complete every exercise with full intensity.

What I see a lot when it comes to training to complete failure is; trainees will plan to do 3-4 heavy sets on their first exercise. They will go too heavy and rely on a training partner to assist in the last few reps of every set. They will be completely exhausted and burnt out by the last set of that first exercise and will have to reduce the weight used to be able to complete the desired rep range. Moving on to the next exercise they have already depleted their mental strength, energy, and crushed their central nervous system. However they will continue to train in this manner generally resulting in very slow progress, and many plateaus.

It is important to consider the fact that in order to get bigger or stronger you need to progress from where you currently are. Leaving room for progression on a weekly basis and utilising protocols such as training short of failure and using periodization will allow for minimal strength plateaus and consistent progression.

I am not entirely against training to failure, as I do believe it does provide results when used correctly. I suggest incorporating intensity techniques that push your body to failure in the final set of an exercise, ideally in the last 1-2 exercises of a workout. You could call this a burn set or a flush set where you are performing drop sets, super sets, rest pause, etc to completely destroy your body right before entering the recovery phase.

Denver Steyn is a health and fitness coach based in QLD. If you're looking for a coach contact Denver,