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Final Rep, Go To Failure Or Not

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It was Arnold who coined the phrase "no pain no gain" implying that anything short of training to the point of failure was a waste of time. This was taken on by the bodybuilding community to mean training to failure, which is now the ONLY sport that trains this way.

Olympic weightlifting as well as powerlifting and all athletic throwing movements do not train to the point of failure, well as least not the way a bodybuilder trains. But the term training to the point of failure needs to be examined a bit more closely because we need to ask what do we actually mean when we say train to failure?

Is it an eccentric failure or simply the inability to complete another repetition using good form? Or does it mean the inability to hold a desired tempo when doing the movement? Or failure could mean at a cellular, or neural level or it could even mean the failure of your stabilizers, or prime movers?

Most experts will agree that it was Arthur Jones who invented the Nautilus equipment who was responsible for popularizing the idea of training to the point of momentary failure using one set per exercise. It is unfortunate that this thinking only lead to training with a poor exercise form with the focus on reaching failure and disregarding the importance of correct form.

It is important to note here that all beginners will make gains in muscle when using any new training method simply because it is new and the body is adapting. To continue getting results one needs to constantly change the basics like the order of the exercise and/or rest periods as well as volume and intensity.

But we all know that no training program is perfect as every-body is different and there is no guarantee that you will never hit a training plateau and continue to grow muscle as you get stronger. Bodybuilders and sports scientists are not always on the same page and this is a perfect example.

In Sports science they have a very specific definition of what intensity is and that is the workload lifted which is expressed as a percentage of 1RM or the maximum weight you can lift once. Bodybuilding however defines intensity as the amount of effort required to perform the movement and its repetitions.

These two definitions can be separated by bodybuilding offering a subjective view on what intensity really is and Sports science offering an objective view on this that can be quantified. Any intrinsic intensity any bodybuilder might see or feel during his workout is totally subjective.

The point is that asking the question if you should train to failure will depend on your own subjective definition of what reaching that point of failure is to you. This should indicate to you that training specifically to reach your understanding of failure is something that could be counter-productive.

Building muscle is something that has been proven and training with high intensity by plotting your workload against your 1RM is what Sports Science has to offer. Bodybuilders should stick to the proven principals of progressive resistance to gain muscle before they try to see what their definition of failure is. The concept of training to the point of failure should only be dealt with by bodybuilders who have been training for at least one year.


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