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Working to Failure When Weight Training

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Is working out to failure good or bad?

In weight training or bodybuilding the term "failure" is used to describe what happens when you are unable to continue a set of an exercise due to momentary muscle failure. It is NOT when you think you cannot complete a rep it is when you literally fail to complete a rep after attempting to complete it.

For example, if you were attempting to do 10 reps of an exercise but could only lift the 9th rep halfway, then you failed on that 9th rep. This is failure. So to get back to the question which is should you train to failure is something that has been an ongoing discussion for many years.

To answer this question we should look at the pros and the cons of reaching that point of failure after attempting to reach it and not Ďthinkingí you have reached it. Here are the pros when reaching that point of failure:

If you reach failure during a set, it usually means you are working pretty hard, putting forth significant effort, and generating significant muscle fatigue.

It also usually means you are striving to make progress in some way, and progression is honestly the true key to getting positive results from any weight training routine.

But there are a few cons when training to failure that need to be seriously considered as well. The first is that when you train to the point of failure it is extremely taxing on your body. It is not only taxing on the specific muscle targeted but you whole central nervous system as well.

This is important as reaching that point of failure will impact both your short term and long term recovery capabilities. What this means is that going to failure on a set (or on multiple sets) will not only impact your performance on later sets of that same exercise AND the remaining exercises in that dayís workout, but going to failure often will also impact your overall performance and ability to recover from one workout to the next.

The last point is that there is also the issue of safety. Sure, going to failure on an exercise like dumbbell curls or leg extensions is fairly safe, but failing (especially without a spotter) during a set of barbell bench presses, squats, or something similar is not a fun place to be.

Advice from the experts says that purposely setting out to reach failure on a set (or every set) is the wrong idea. In most cases, you should try to stop about 1 (or 2) reps short of failure. What this means is that if you are trying for 10 reps but felt your 9th rep was definitely going to be the last one you were going to be able to do, stop there and donít purposely go and fail on the 10th. Leave that rep in the tank and try for it next time.

In the experts opinion you will gain in both the short term (the rest of that workout) and the long term (future workouts), this definitely appears to be more beneficial decision. But occasionally reaching failure is ok and in order to continue making progress, itís pretty much bound to happen from time to time.

The bottom line is that it should not be your goal and youíre not purposely trying to reach failure all the time (and you do it safely of course), then itís ok if it happens every once in a while unintentionally. Just try to avoid it by stopping a rep or so before reaching that point the majority of the time.


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