Going to failure (the point at which no more reps can be performed) is a way to guarantee muscle growth stimulation. Over the last thirty years much has been printed about going to failure during weightlifting exercises. Outside of the fitness center, the fact is, there is almost no human action that entails going to failure. The human body functions by intricate systems that are always taking averages into account.
There are three types of muscle contraction: concentric, static and eccentric. A concentric contraction takes place when a muscle shortens, like when you lift the barbell in curls by shortening the elbow flexors. Your muscle lengthens when you lower the same barbell – an eccentric contraction. Finally, a muscle can also contract without you changing the joint angle, like in the case of a gymnast holding an iron cross, and this is an isometric or static contraction.
There are also three types of failure:
Concentric failure – you can no longer complete the positive part of the lift without sacrificing form.
Static failure – you can no longer hold the weight still.
Eccentric failure – you can no longer control the weight on the negative part of the lift.
Momentary muscle failure is identified as the point in the set where total fatigue of the targeted muscles takes place. The majority of people are likely to stop a set at the first sign of discomfort to the start of that familiar burning sensation. The common thread in most resistance routines is not endless hours of training, but the relatively high level of muscle fatigue reached on at least one set per exercise.
The newest "secret" to making great gains in your workouts is One-Set Training or performing just one set to failure on each exercise. The idea is that your muscles will explode with new size in addition to the fact that you will avoid the pitfalls of overtraining. One-Set Training can be very helpful but the chief requirement here may be extensive experience in weight training.
Most people who lift weights for bodybuilding purposes look upon exhaustion as the main objective for working out, whether or not they become conscious of it. Recent trends in contemporary exercise customs hold up this argument: in Tae-bo, the participant performs hundreds of pseudo martial arts exercises to music within the course of a single class. He will never develop proper martial arts skills, but most participants are happy with Tae-bo because they leave the class thoroughly exhausted.
There are a number of different ways of going beyond the pain barrier in order to work a muscle as much as possible, all of which take dedication and enthusiastic training, with an absolute desire to make gains. The following are some ways of training past failure:
- Forced reps – train to failure, then get a spot to assist you in lifting a few more reps out, but keep your form strict.
- Drop sets – this is where you train to failure with a weight, then immediately use a lighter weight.
- Negative reps – after you have reached positive failure, a spotter will lift the weight and you have to control it on the way down for a few reps.
- Negative resistance reps – after positive failure, your spotter will lift the positive part of the movement and then pushes the weight down lightly and you have to try to resist the force.
- Cheat reps – if you have reached failure with perfect form, cheat reps performed carefully can help you squeeze a few extra reps out so you can go past failure.
- Rest-pause – train a set to failure, put the weight down, shake off the pain, then pick the same weight up and go again, 2-3 times.
- Half-reps – when you cannot do another full rep, do a few more with just half the movement, as this still stimulates the muscle.
The main rules of thumb for training beyond failure are as follows:
- You will require an hour or so to recuperate from your workouts so that you can do everyday functions
- You cannot exercise in this way for more than six weeks if you are doing it correctly
- You can only work out once a day for an upper limit of four times a week
- You can only spend a maximum of 45 minutes in the gym per session
- Going beyond failure is VERY excruciating and you will be likely to have anxiety before your workouts
- You must keep all other physical activities to a bare minimum during your 6-week exercise cycle to guarantee maximum recovery and energy available for the workouts
You can only build muscle tissue if you can produce increasingly stronger muscular contractions, so this calls for an emphasis on finding ways to add to exercise intensity. Anything less than maximum effort will decrease the effectiveness of your muscle building workout. The body will only show a major transformation if you ask it to do something extra – too many people seem to finish a set when they reach a certain number of reps.
Bodybuilding routines tend to include a high volume of sets and exercises repeated multiple times per week. Frequently training to failure without any periodization or cycling of the intensity or length of the workouts increases the risk of tendonitis or other damage. In contrast, power lifters and Olympic weight lifters tend to perform fewer sets and reps in each training session.