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Should You Train To Failure?

Posted by: Ron

This is an age old question I get asked a lot

Avoid muscular failure if you’re after more size

This is a touchy subject for a lot of people. There’s a lot of charge on both sides of whether to go all out on each set or to leave a few reps in the tank.

What Vince Gironda taught me is that the fastest way to build muscle is to get a muscle to do the most amount of work in the least amount of time. This is why both he and I always suggest to take minimal breaks between sets.

When you go to failure, you’re working your nervous system. When your nervous system hits its limit, it shuts off access to the muscles which is why it becomes impossible to move that weight. It does this to protect you from harming yourself (by lifting too much weight.) It’s a built in safety mechanism.

It takes longer for your nervous system to bounce back to normal and take a break from being on-guard than it does for your muscles to recover. I was fortunate to have Vince confirm my findings when he told me how he discovered what worked better.

Vince used to train to failure which is what he learned from the Easton brothers. His gains would be lacklustre at best and he often got discouraged. He would lay off training only to notice 3 or so days after he stopped that his muscles were actually growing. He would then enthusiastically go back to training to failure again, just to be faced with the same thing of halted gains. He continued on for a while making small incremental gains, until he started entering contests where building muscle was the primary goal rather than just to work out for working out’s sake. Instead of long workouts, he wanted to get his workouts over and done with as fast as possible, he would work out really quickly. He would stick to lighter weights and he minimized his rest periods while pushing to between 60 – 80 per cent of effort. This is when it all clicked together for him. He started gaining muscular size consistently without needing to take days off.

I also noticed similar things in my training. Constantly going all out made me tired and lethargic, wanting to rest all the time. My gains were meagre as well. Once I stopped pushing so hard, it all changed for the better for me too.

Each time I changed a young trainee’s routine from all out effort to 60 – 80% effort with minimal rest and high consistency, their gains improved. It goes back to the compound interest principle. The more consistent you are, the more the interest accumulates.

One thing I feel compelled to mention. This information is for bodybuilders who train naturally, without the use of steroids. When you’re using those drugs, your recovery time is much quicker and people on steroids can get away with any type of training and still make gains. Articles in magazines telling you to go all out because so and so pro does and look at his results, will lead you down a disappointing path, unless you’re willing to take what that pro is taking in order to get the same results.

I challenge you to keep an open mind and if you’re going to muscular failure in your workouts, try to leave 2 or even 3 reps in the tank but reduce your rest between sets. I’m open to being proven wrong. Report back if you stop gaining or if it actually works for you.

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