Multiple Ways to Failure
Working out is a balancing act. There's a fine line between exercising until your muscles are fatigued and overtraining. Researchers have found that when you take EVERY set of a workout to muscle failure, it doesn't help your muscle growth. You don't get any extra strength or power gains.
However, if you're doing three or four sets of an exercise, and you only take the LAST set to failure, it CAN be beneficial. Australian scientists discovered that lifters who did one set to failure out of four, doubled their strength gains over an eight-week period compared to the subjects who didn't do any sets to failure.
What that means for the average person working out is this. If you're currently engaged in a weight training program, and you want to see more results, consider incorporating a routine that pushes your muscles to failure. But only do that when you're doing at least three sets of each exercise and you should work to failure only on the last set. To avoid overtraining, only train to failure for 8 weeks at a time, so your muscles will have a chance to recuperate.
Here are the most common methods of working to muscle failure.
Cheat Reps are done when your muscles fail using perfect form. You "cheat" in your form, allowing you to get a few more reps in and completely exhausting your muscles. But there's great danger in this. Proper form is used to keep your body well aligned and supported so you don't hurt yourself. Anytime you "cheat," you risk injury.
Drop Sets have you start with a heavy set and do the reps to failure. When you reach failure, a spotter takes off just enough weight so you can do a few more reps, then when you reach failure again the spotter removes more weight. You've finished the set when you can't do one more rep using the lightest weight.
Forced Reps are when you train to failure, then the person who is spotting you helps you lift to get a few more reps out. Proper form is always maintained.
Negative Reps are what you do at the end of a set once you reach failure. You have someone help you push the weight up, and you concentrate on the resistance and slowing the weight on the way down. Your set is complete when you can no longer lower the weight in a controlled manner.
Negative Resistance Reps are done once you reach failure. A spotter helps you lift the weight for the concentric part of the movement, then pushes lightly down on the weight while you try and resist the force.
Partial or Half-reps are part of a complete repetition where the muscle works in a shortened range of motion. You can start a partial at the top or bottom of a repetition, then move as little as 1/4 to as much as 3/4 of the way through a full range of motion.
Rest-pause has two variations.
Version one makes you start with a much heavier weight than normal. If you're familiar with weight training terms, it's called your one rep max. (That's the maximum amount of weight you can lift, one time.) You perform one rep with that one rep max weight. Then you rest for 10-15 seconds before doing it again. You continue this cycle, doing one rep, waiting 10-15 seconds and doing another until your muscles fail.
Version two has you start with a heavier weight than you typically use. About 80% of your one rep max is a good start. Then when you begin the exercise, you take a short rest (1-3 seconds) between each REP and continue on until your muscles fail. That's your first set. You then rest for 10-15 seconds before you start the next set. When you can't complete even one rep after the 10-15 second break, you're done.
Supersetting is a technique where you perform two different exercises in a row with almost no rest in between. For example, a chest exercise, immediately followed by an arm exercise.
Any of these techniques (except cheating) can help you push your body to new levels when used in moderation.
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