As progressive individuals bodybuilders are constantly pushing boundaries. When it comes to training, every day is an uphill battle to get bigger, stronger and take our physique to the next level.
With that said, there are a few stigmas to bodybuilding that are not quite realistic. One of them is that we should be getting stronger and stronger as time goes by. Lately, through my own training, I find that strength isn’t really an accurate benchmark to use to judge your progress. It’s bodybuilding after all, not powerlifting or strongman competitions that we’re working towards. It’s when I grow that I know I’m doing the right thing.
Tha aim is to build a physique, not become the strongest guy in the gym.
Training instinctively (which I am a huge advocate of) and developing the perfect mind-muscle connection through training means that you learn to train the muscle group you’re prioritising more efficiently and more effectively. This means that you technically need less weight to get the results you’re after. When I say less weight I don’t mean that training should become a walk in the park, with high reps the new flavour of the times. I mean that being more efficient by knowing where to focus the resistance of the weight you are using and minimising the recruitment of secondary or supporting muscle groups is the key to training success.
The heading of this article is actually a contradiction (if you hadn’t figured it out yet). Failure isn’t an option in the sense that we’ll never give up on our goals and aims in this incredible sport we call bodybuilding.
However, the fact of the matter is you will experience failure during training, whether you ant to or not. Learning how to push through failure and how to maximise its benefits to improve your training could be one of the most useful and productive tools you learn with regard to weight training.
BUT FAILURE IS FAILURE. SURELY WHEN I CAN T PUSH ANYMORE THAT’S THE END OF THE SET?
True, but only temporarily. I’m a firm believer that all training sessions require that you slowly build up to your heaviest sets in the beginning stages of your workout. Once you hit maximum weight (by selecting a weight that is realistic as a working set) then you need to start training intelligently. Anyone can walk into a gym, start squatting one plate a side, build up to four or five plates a side and think they’ve trained hard. It’s a no-brainer. Squat until it gets difficult, try one or two more reps, stand up, put more weight on, do another set, walk out. If it was that simple everyone that ever did a squat would have huge legs.
FACTS ABOUT TRAINING TO FAILURE
- If you’re not training to failure you’re not progressing. I don’t care how easily you think you build muscle, if you’re not training with maximum intensity by working to failure then you’re not growing. Only through constantly increasing strain will your body evolve (get bigger) to cope with the stressors you impose on it.
- Most novice bodybuilders, even they’ve intermediate guys, will stop their set once they’ve reached failure thinking they’ve given their all in that set. This, in fact, is where a more advanced athlete will tell you that the set has only just begun.
- Training to failure with intensity is like anything you practise in life – if you keep at it you’ll get better with time.
- If you learn to harness the power of training beyond failure you’ll progress at your fastest possible rate, but only if all the other aspects like good, solid nutrition and rest are all in place.
- It’s impossible to train to failure and expect absolute maximum intensity at every workout. The truth is you’re not a machine and your body can only handle certain periods of excessive strain before it’ll require rest periods to recover. If you don’t cycle your training intensity you’ll simply end up fatigued and inevitably injured.
SO HOW DO I PUSH BEYOND FAILURE?
That’s easy. You get smart and you start hitting the targeted muscle from all angles using lighter weight, different rep speeds (tempo), different rep ranges, short-to-full range of motion movements and rest-pause sets (probably the most intense thing you can ever incorporate into your workouts).
USE LIGHTER WEIGHT
Once you’ve reached maximum intensity with your heavier sets (your actual working sets) and you reach a point where if you had to try another set with the same weight you probably wouldn’t be able to reach the same rep range, then it’s time to chuck the heavier weights away and get smart. Start by incorporating drop sets into your training. Straight after your last heavy set, pick up a weight that’s no more than 60% of the weight you’ve just pushed/ pulled and bang out a final set to failure.
CHANGE THE REP SPEED
During training you body becomes accustomed to the movements, the weight and even the tempo at which you perform your reps. It’s your body’s way of learning to adapt to the stressor and the strain that you’re placing on it. Getting a great pump from training also doesn’t happen from simply pushing large amounts of weight. By changing up the tempo of the the lighter weight movements during the drop sets, rest-pause sets, 21 s or any other training style you choose you’re placing even more demand on the muscle, while also forcing more blood into it.
CHANGE THE RANGE OF MOTION
Believe it or not, full rep ranges aren’t the holy grail of bodybuilding. Sure, during your working sets you need to work through a full range of motion, taking the muscle from full contraction to full extension. But when you start performing sets to failure after your bigger working sets you can actually take your training well beyond your limits by simply changing the range of motion. Take a bicep curl movement for example. You’re standing at a cable machine and you’re doing curls. You reach the point where you’re struggling to perform a full rep, so why not reduce the range of motion, shorten the length of the movement and pick up the pace a bit? Try it. You’ll be screaming in agony because the intensity of the pump will be so extreme. 21s are a perfect example of how you can perform three different ranges of motion in one set. Starting with the bottom range of movement to halfway up, perform seven quick but focused reps. Once you’ve completed those move up to the middle arc of the movement and then perform another seven reps from the mid-point to the top (full contraction). Once you’ve completed those reps extend your arms fully and perform the last seven reps of the 21 set with a full range of motion (if you can by that stage). If you’re really brave and want to take your training into overdrive, after you’ve done the full range of motion set bring the bar back up to the top point (contraction point) and hold the contraction for another count of seven seconds. Congratulations, you’ve just performed a set of 28s – you’re almost hardcore!
Take one set and split it into four. Execute these four sets to failure with whatever exercise you’re doing. When you reach failure either pause for a moment to recover a bit or put the weight down (rest), pick it up and do it again. Do that four times in a row until you can’t move the weight anymore. That is one set. Now we’re starting to separate the men from the boys. Which are you?
I can bet you tons of cash that your training is not at the level it should be to progress at the rate you should. Everyone is quick to blame nutrition, supplementation or drugs, or find any other reason for their lack of progress. However, the truth is this: More often than not guys just don’t train hard enough. The human body is a resilient mother f*cker that requires a constant barrage of stressors to change. So no matter how hard you think you might train, tell yourself there is still room for improvement and add some of the training methods mentioned above to the mix – they’ll change your idea about intensity.
Only when my training partner can see that I am struggling does he tell me that “the set has just started!”. Think about that when you’re doing your next set. The first few reps of a set are simply a means to an end. That means that you’re just doing them for the sake of reaching that point in the set that really matters – the point where you need to tell yourself that your set’s just begun. When it gets tough, that’s when it counts. It just all depends on how you push through the barriers of failure. Like anything in life, every set is a test of how bad you want to grow your physique and reach your goals. Never tell yourself that you train hard. The minute you do you negate any chance of real growth as you limit yourself before you’ve even begun. Training through failure is where the successful guys separate themselves from the rest. Make the decision to work harder, use these techniques to push through failure and take your training to the next level. It’s gonna hurt like hell, but hey, it’ll be worth it.