Failing with Failure

11 10 2013


A few weeks ago a buddy of mine asked me the following question:

“What is the importance (or unimportance) of going to failure on every set? Everything I have seen has mentioned how taxing going to failure can be on the CNS, and yet I see everyone in the gym going to failure on every set. Is going to failure bad assuming you can maintain the same form on the last rep you had on the first rep (admittedly that’s a big assumption)?”

Ah yes, going to failure. We’ve all seen those guys at the gym, curling up the bar as their friend struggles on the bench press: “One more buddy!” Truth be told, I’ve been that guy. When I started getting into strength training, it was all about pushing my body to the limits- I went to failure all the time. I literally probably went to failure at least once per workout, whether that entailed having a spotter help me with my last few reps, or simply doing isolation sets like biceps curls until I could no longer lift my arms. As a novice (and young) lifter, in hindsight I feel as though going to failure didn’t hurt me nearly as much as it would now, as an older more experienced lifter. However, I also used to get injured a lot more in my younger years when I was pushing my body to failure on a consistent basis, so take from that what you will; this is simply my anecdotal evidence, but correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation.

The issue, as I see it, is that inexperienced lifters- even some lifters who have been going to the gym on a fairly steady basis for several years- don’t have a very good feel for their actual 1-rep maxes, and haven’t been lifting long enough to find that balance between high, productive intensity, and going to absolute fatigue. The bottom line is this:

Going to failure is unproductive.

Pretty much everything I’ve read or learned over the years backs up this statement. There simply isn’t any evidence out there that training to failure is an effective way to train strength or grow muscle. Yes, there certainly are bodybuilders out there who have and still do swear by this method, but there are definitely other factors at play; I have no doubts that anyone employing the “going to failure routine” could train more effectively. When you lift weights, you are training your CNS (central nervous system) and you are attempting to initiate a growth stimulus in your muscles. You need not go to failure to achieve this stimulus- that final struggle is not the catalyst; progressively increasing intensity in an intelligent manner is. Of course, this does not mean that you shouldn’t train with a high intensity; as I’ve mentioned before, intensity is a major key to progress. To give you an example, the vast majority of my training sets fall in the 70-90% range. If I perform too much work in the 95-100% range, bad things will happen. I save my 1-rep max attempts for competitions and/or for testing my lifts 1-2 times per year. The key is learning to push yourself without taking it too far and employing progressive intensity for sustained success. Going to failure is the key to getting injured, retarding progress and looking like an ass at the gym. In other words, going to failure is failure itself. Not only that, but without a spotter, failure can be dangerous- please don’t be this guy…

On that note, novice lifters especially should absolutely train with a spotter as much as possible. I would never encourage going to failure, and every lifter should try to minimize this as much as possible, but a spotter can minimize the damage as you learn your limits. As I alluded to earlier, I don’t think going to failure is as detrimental to novice lifters, but the more experienced you are, the more critical it becomes to never miss a rep. If I miss a rep in my training, I’ve either programmed poorly, have under-recovered, or just straight up screwed up. In any case, I would almost surely take a few days off to let my body rest, and then start my program anew. If I fail and don’t press the reset button, I know I won’t be able to plow through and progress to my maximum potential; it’s that serious.

Just another reason to avoid going to failure...

Just another reason to avoid going to failure…

In conclusion, if you are looking to build muscle, get stronger, or achieve any sort of physical progress you should concentrate on the 3 Ps:

  1. Perfect your form
  2. Perform all reps with control
  3. Progress your weights slowly

It’s as simple as that. Going to failure might make you feel like you’ve pushed your body to its maximum potential, but things aren’t always as they seem- you’ll almost surely be on the path to injury, and you’ll look like a dick in the process.

For more information on weight training,, you know how to find me!



A Quick EPOC and Fat Loss Reminder

25 03 2013

Lift heavy things, and it won’t be so imaginary.

Hope everyone had a nice weekend!

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about how exercising with relatively heavy weights forces your body to continue burning calories at an elevated rate for up to 38 hours post-workout? Remember last week when I told you that weight training ultimately helps you burn more calories than cardio alone? Well, Muscle & Fitness just wrote a little piece to back me up. And remember, Muscle & Fitness is one of the good magazines out there (NOT to be confused with Men’s Health).

It’s honestly very refreshing to see good information come out to the general public, so any time I see something like this, I’m going to pass it your way!

Happy Monday!


EPOC, Intensity, and capitalizing on your work-outs

12 01 2013

A few days ago I wrote and article on Why you are getting nowhere at the gym, and how to fix it. In this article, one of my points was that most people don’t challenge themselves enough with the amount of weight that they lift. People are seemingly happy to go through the motions of simply being at the gym without truly putting in the effort required to make any sort of progress. To many, ignorance is bliss- so you can stop reading here if you’re happy with your waning results- but here is why your work-outs will be much more rewarding if you learn to push yourself at the gym.

What does intensity truly mean?

In most cases, intensity can be described as one’s perceived effort, but for anaerobic lifting in the gym, intensity directly correlates to the amount of weight lifted. Increase the weight, increase the intensity. It’s as simple as that. In regards to aerobic exercise where there are no weights involved to determine the intensity (I’ll use running as an example), sprinting is far more intense than jogging. Doing as much as possible, as close to the maximum exertion you can put out, is intense.


What is EPOC?

Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) refers to the increased rate of oxygen uptake by our bodies after performing an activity.  When we exercise, our bodies require more oxygen than when we are at rest. Even at a low intensity, exercise will create an oxygen deficit in our bodies, but it is indeed the level of intensity that determines the magnitude of this oxygen deficit. Since we cannot immediately provide the oxygen needed by our bodies during exercise, we continue to consume excess energy post-workout. A low-intensity activity- walking, jogging lightly, doing a few casual sets on the calf-raise machine at the gym- will result in an short and unsubstantial EPOC, whereas a highly intense activity- lifting heavy weights, multiple bouts of sprinting, etc.- will result in longer and much more significant EPOC- which is when we can truly capitalize on our workouts.

How do we benefit from EPOC?

EPOC can remain elevated for minutes or hours, but it is directly proportional to the intensity of the activities performed. Some research shows that EPOC remains significantly higher within the 3 hours post-workout, but some suggest that intense exercise can lead to an increased metabolic rate for up to 38 hours. Essentially, your body will be scrambling post-workout to do several things: metabolize additional nutrients, replenish energy stores, reload oxygen stores in your muscles and blood, and decrease your elevated body temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate. Translated more simply: your body will still be working very hard after an intense workout and will continue to burn calories at an elevated rate.

Take home points

– Resistance training produces greater EPOC responses than aerobic exercise

– In regards to aerobic exercise, high-intensity interval training produces a higher EPOC than steady-state exercise

– Higher-intensity resistance training (think heavier weights) disturbs the body’s homeostasis to a greater degree and results in a larger energy requirement after exercise in order to restore the body’s systems to normal

– High-intensity exercise requires more energy both during the workout and post-workout (ie, you burn more calories during your workout and in the hours following the workout)

– Higher-intensity training is superior for fat-burning and weight-loss, for the reasons explained above

– If you’re working out and you’re not sweating, not overheating, or not breathing hard, you should seriously consider increasing the weight and/or decreasing your rest time between sets

Although the benefits of high-intensity training are well documented, there are other important considerations. Heavier weights require good form, and it takes time to master multi-articulated exercises like the squat, deadlift and upper body pushes. Prior to implementing high-intensity programs, it is important to have mastered these exercises to ensure safety. It is also important to note that you will require more recovery post-workout with these types of programs as well; this entails better nutrition, increased rest, and attention to muscle and joint mobilization.

For information on how to increase the intensity of your workouts, don’t hesitate to send me a message!

If you want results, get after it!