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BDJ: Training to Failure as the Key Stimulus
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AI1963

Brian:

In another thread, part of one of your posts stated "Nonetheless, with 35 years experience, I do not think in the least.. NOT IN THE LEAST... that training at 100% effort (no matter the instance) produces better results for hypertrophy than stopping short of failure (for the most part) and applying a different approach that stimulates hypertrophy better."

Your statement caused me to think on this topic.

Mentzer often pointed out that exercise/growth was simply stress/response which seems accurate and insightful. However, the stress/response analogies he used - tanning, callusing, sprinting - were not the perfect affirmations of one-set-to-failure training that he claimed they were.

With regards to tanning, I have found that short (15 min.) and relatively frequent (3-4X/week) sessions give me the best tan without any burning. "Tanning to failure" or exposing oneself to the brightest possible (say, equatorial) sun until one could not stand more would hardly produce a better or equal result.

The same with callusing: an abrasive force, in moderation, will cause a helpful compensatory response. A single application of the highest intensity abrasion would cause injury, i.e. rope burn or worse.

Finally, I do not know of anyone who posits that a sprinter would produce best results by doing a single, all-out sprint as a training session.

While I definitely am a HIT advocate in that I believe training should/must be hard, brief and infrequent, I don't know that ultimate intensity is required or even often desirable for best results. Most people I observe at the gym don't approach any thing close to maximum effort so I think there's little danger of the general population taking intensity too far. I do think that we HITers may drive ourselves too far in the belief that harder is always better.

Also, I don't know that the minimum volume is always the best volume of work. More - a little more - seems to produce better results at times.

Given your statement, would you please expound upon what you see as the key factors in promoting hypertrophy and how best to apply/manipulate them?

In brief! I understand this is a huge topic, something you've covered in your books and in other places...but am interested in your latest thoughts.

Thanks in advance.

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Brian Johnston

Ontario, CAN

It's the overall demands. It's everything... load has a bearing, as does rep volume, set volume, altering frequency patterns, etc., etc., together with sufficient variation to produce new and different challenges. To go over all this in detail would mean copying and pasting from my last two books. The point is, don't hold 'reaching failure' as the be-all-to-end-all. Anyone who trains hard will reach failure now and again without even considering it as a goal. Just don't use that tool too frequently from the tool box as it eventually wears out (wears you out) without anything better to show for it.
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Turpin

X2 Very good posts.

T.
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HeavyHitter32

Agreed!
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Donnie Hunt

Thanks for all the ideas guys.

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S.M.Punisher

Leaving aside my wanting to believe that failure is necessary - the fulfillment I get from giving 100% and being able to do so regularly without any fear of burnout - I am almost certain that training to failure is necessary at least some of the time if anything close to optimal progress is desired, for one reason only.

Even the most hardcore lifter who attempts to discipline himself to training short of failure, exclusively, for any prolonged period will slowly but surely become distanced from the feeling of what true failure really is. One or two reps shy will become four or five. I thought it could never happen to me, but it did one time recently after a few weeks of not having pushed myself like I usually do. Just as the body always looks for the easiest way formwise, so the brain does effortwise- if one doesn't overide those tendencies with disciplined determination.

That line of where true maximum effort is needs to be continually redrawn. I think of it as how conditioned the nervous system is to intensity. If the limit of intensity is not periodically tested, the nervous system will decondition to it. (Just as beginners have to "learn" intensity, it seems advanced lifters can "forget" it.)

The ability to tap into such a deep resereve of nervous energy reserved for only the most motivated individual is something that needs to be practiced if it is to be kept for any significant period of time. Being satisfied with never going further than four or five reps short (one or two in most people's minds) of that true level of all-out effort I cannot believe will yield anything close to optimum progress.

A well-managed use of training to failure I firmly believe is absolutely necessary for optimum progress and reaching anything close to genetic potential.
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Donnie Hunt

S.M.Punisher wrote:
Leaving aside my wanting to believe that failure is necessary - the fulfillment I get from giving 100% and being able to do so regularly without any fear of burnout - I am almost certain that training to failure is necessary at least some of the time if anything close to optimal progress is desired, for one reason only.

Even the most hardcore lifter who attempts to discipline himself to training short of failure, exclusively, for any prolonged period will slowly but surely become distanced from the feeling of what true failure really is. One or two reps shy will become four or five. I thought it could never happen to me, but it did one time recently after a few weeks of not having pushed myself like I usually do. Just as the body always looks for the easiest way formwise, so the brain does effortwise- if one doesn't overide those tendencies with disciplined determination.

That line of where true maximum effort is needs to be continually redrawn. I think of it as how conditioned the nervous system is to intensity. If the limit of intensity is not periodically tested, the nervous system will decondition to it. (Just as beginners have to "learn" intensity, it seems advanced lifters can "forget" it.)

The ability to tap into such a deep resereve of nervous energy reserved for only the most motivated individual is something that needs to be practiced if it is to be kept for any significant period of time. Being satisfied with never going further than four or five reps short (one or two in most people's minds) of that true level of all-out effort I cannot believe will yield anything close to optimum progress.

A well-managed use of training to failure I firmly believe is absolutely necessary for optimum progress and reaching anything close to genetic potential.


The whole concept of going to failure has interested me for quite awhile. I mean there's concentric failure, static contraction at concentric failure, drop sets, partials, stopping an exercise when you get a certain feel, etc. What do you consider failure? Do you change it up? Just to be clear I'm asking out of genuine curiosity. Not trying to start an argument about who's right and who's wrong.
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Brian Johnston

Ontario, CAN

Anyone who wishes to optimize development and/or strength will want to and need to train hard. Training hard comes in many different packages, but certainly one element is effort... no argument there. And certainly a person will reach failure some of the times automatically.

The point I'm making is that it's not the be-all-to-end-all as there are a lot of people who train to failure who look like shit, who barely look like they train because they are not taking into account EVERY OTHER FACTOR that comprises an EFFECTIVE workout. And when you take into account all those other factors then it becomes better realized that training to failure has its place as opposed to being the 'key element' in an effective and productive workout.
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entsminger

Virginia, USA

==Scott==
I agree Brian.
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HeavyHitter32

Even the most hardcore lifter who attempts to discipline himself to training short of failure, exclusively, for any prolonged period will slowly but surely become distanced from the feeling of what true failure really is. One or two reps shy will become four or five. I thought it could never happen to me, but it did one time recently after a few weeks of not having pushed myself like I usually do.

I never found that to be the case. In fact, sometimes I reach failure or get very close to it without it being my goal. It 'just happens' if giving an honest effort as I do in my training, but I'm also using multiple sets which encourages this to happen...a build-up of fatigue stops me from contracting any further...even when I want to go deeper into the set if you will. Then the heavy "molasses" feeling as some call it in the muscle becomes evident that the muscle is shot for the session.

If someone is doing just one vanilla set per muscle group and not training to failure some of the time, I could see your point being a greater likelihood for sure.
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Brian Johnston

Ontario, CAN

Ditto... I don't use failure as a goal, but I certainly know when to go for it, relative to past workouts, past sets, etc.
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simon-hecubus

Texas, USA

SM Punisher wrote:
Even the most hardcore lifter who attempts to discipline himself to training short of failure, exclusively, for any prolonged period will slowly but surely become distanced from the feeling of what true failure really is. One or two reps shy will become four or five. I thought it could never happen to me, but it did one time recently after a few weeks of not having pushed myself like I usually do.


HeavyHitter32 wrote:
I never found that to be the case. In fact, sometimes I reach failure or get very close to it without it being my goal. It 'just happens' if giving an honest effort as I do in my training, but I'm also using multiple sets which encourages this to happen...a build-up of fatigue stops me from contracting any further...even when I want to go deeper into the set if you will. Then the heavy "molasses" feeling as some call it in the muscle becomes evident that the muscle is shot for the session.

If someone is doing just one vanilla set per muscle group and not training to failure some of the time, I could see your point being a greater likelihood for sure.


Agreed, Dave. I NEVER let myself get that far from failure. I usually hit it at least once every other workout, even with Brian's variation schemes --- it's just that I usually ramp/build up to it, instead of getting there in one "TF" set.

When I say 'failure', I mean last rep in good form. Any further reps would either be cheats and terminated part way with a static, which I avoid as I now consider excessively inroading and counterproductive.

And there's rarely* times when I feel less than satisfied about "giving my all". It's just that I apply a new definition for "all" these days...

(*maybe if poor or insufficient sleep. I find myself getting 'winded' easily and my muscle endurance suuuxxxxxxx)

Scott
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Turpin

If I reach failure I would be disappointed as it would mean I had not achieved my projected volume ( sets / reps ) within a workout , and my ongoing adaptive response had taken a backward step.

T.
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PTDaniel

I generally aim to avoid momentary muscular failure. If anything my tendency is to come too close to failure or hit failure and short circuit my attempts at slowly accumulating fatigue and volume.

Aim for a new, concrete standard. For instance to keep myself away from failure, I focus on a rhythmic rep tempo. When my tempo slows, generally I terminate the set since I know from experience failure is a rep or so away.
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spud

Turpin wrote:
If I reach failure I would be disappointed as it would mean I had not achieved my projected volume ( sets / reps ) within a workout , and my ongoing adaptive response had taken a backward step.


How could you say such a thing Turpin?

You are henceforth banned from the church.

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S.M.Punisher

First of all, the kind of failure that happens suddenly at the end of a few sets is a very different feeling to the kind that you determinedly attempt to reach after a few ramp up sets. Watch a Dorian Yates training video and ask yourself if failure "just happened."

When the last rep of a set is twice as slow as the one preceding it, and failure approaches gradually throughout that rep itself as the lifter tries desperately to keep the weight moving, genuinely unsure of whether the weight will defeat him or not, and desperately wanting to win, is when a true maximum effort is reached.

Apparently, when Bill Pearl was asked once why he did not train to failure, he replied: Why would I want to fail at anything?

Don't laugh, but my ideal failure set is one in which I don't actually fail. One hundred percent effort does not imply failure to complete a movement. It may be precisely what is required to complete a movement- to overcome the weight at that one moment in time when the will focused and applied 100% is the only thing that can maintain the barest of forward progress.

I like to go out on top. When one such rep is completed, I leave it there. I have tried to see what further movement is possible by attempting a next rep, and the answer is little to none. I don't do drop sets because I like to finish on a high. If I think there is a more intense rep to be had (and I want it), I rest-pause it with the same weight. Sometimes when the sudden kind of failure is reached, the kind that arrives over higher volume (though in my case sometimes just one or two rest-pause reps after a single max effort set is enough to cause it), I rest-pause to allow myself the opportunity to get the maximally intense complete rep that I'm looking for. Just hitting a wall mid rep does not cut it for me.

I also like negative failure when the weight gets away from me while I give my best effort not to cause a scene in the gym- or not to break my arm when doing one arm negative chins (not recommended).

Turpin wrote:
If I reach failure I would be disappointed as it would mean I had not achieved my projected volume ( sets / reps ) within a workout , and my ongoing adaptive response had taken a backward step.


PTDaniel wrote:
I generally aim to avoid momentary muscular failure. If anything my tendency is to come too close to failure or hit failure and short circuit my attempts at slowly accumulating fatigue and volume.


ARE YOU SERIOUS! Those are excuses if ever I saw some. What would be stopping you from going to failure on the last set of the last exercise for a body part? And you wouldn't prevent any further accumulation of volume- that's ridiculous. If you wanted 8 reps and got 7, you could just rest-pause another one. Or if you get too crazy on one set, reduce the weight a bit for the next one (careful now) and/or add an extra set if necessary (doubtful). You're not going to burn out (or "fry" your CNS, God forbid) from going to failure every now and then.
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Turpin

spud wrote:
Turpin wrote:
If I reach failure I would be disappointed as it would mean I had not achieved my projected volume ( sets / reps ) within a workout , and my ongoing adaptive response had taken a backward step.

How could you say such a thing Turpin?

You are henceforth banned from the church.



LOL .... I know , I know ;)

T.

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Turpin

PTDaniel wrote:
I focus on a rhythmic rep tempo. When my tempo slows, generally I terminate the set since I know from experience failure is a rep or so away.


Spot on !

T.

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Brian Johnston

Ontario, CAN

Turpin's not making an excuse. His direction in training appears to be based on rep and set patterns and achieving that outcome, with secondary emphasis on the overall fatigue experience (correct me if I'm wrong). For myself, my secondary focus takes into account the weight and reps/TUT, but the primary focus is more of congestion and muscle feel that leads toward that exhausted experience. Two different applications... different ways to skin the same cat.
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simon-hecubus

Texas, USA

Turpin wrote:
PTDaniel wrote:
I focus on a rhythmic rep tempo. When my tempo slows, generally I terminate the set since I know from experience failure is a rep or so away.

Spot on !

T


That's not a bad yardstick right there. I MIGHT push one rep past that point, but no more.

One point I failed to make in my previous post is that pushing any harder than that:
Extends Recovery time > which Reduces Frequency > which Diminishes Results
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Turpin

Brian Johnston wrote:
Turpin's not making an excuse. His direction in training appears to be based on rep and set patterns and achieving that outcome, with secondary emphasis on the overall fatigue experience (correct me if I'm wrong). For myself, my secondary focus takes into account the weight and reps/TUT, but the primary focus is more of congestion and muscle feel that leads toward that exhausted experience. Two different applications... different ways to skin the same cat.


Exactly Brian . Thankyou.

T.

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PTDaniel

S.M.Punisher wrote

PTDaniel wrote:
I generally aim to avoid momentary muscular failure. If anything my tendency is to come too close to failure or hit failure and short circuit my attempts at slowly accumulating fatigue and volume.

ARE YOU SERIOUS! Those are excuses if ever I saw some. What would be stopping you from going to failure on the last set of the last exercise for a body part? And you wouldn't prevent any further accumulation of volume- that's ridiculous. If you wanted 8 reps and got 7, you could just rest-pause another one. Or if you get too crazy on one set, reduce the weight a bit for the next one (careful now) and/or add an extra set if necessary (doubtful). You're not going to burn out (or "fry" your CNS, God forbid) from going to failure every now and then.


I don't understand what you're getting at. I don't even have a clue what you mean by frying my CNS. I never said that I don't ever go to failure. Generally I avoid failure. Sometimes I do rest-pause. If I go to failure on preceding sets, the inroad to my strength is so high sometimes for say an exercise like lateral raises, that I can hardly lift my arms without additional resistance.

My excuse would be how I exercise now has produced much greater gains than when I would routinely go to failure. What would stop me from going to failure on the last set? I don't need to go to failure on the last set.

Why do you feel I need to go to failure on sets? You must be aware that there are lots of well developed bodies that have been built by not going to failure.

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S.M.Punisher

What baffles me about these people who say they don't need to train to failure is do they ever plateau? If they never need to train to failure, i.e. apply a stronger stimulus, because they are getting such consistent results by instead routinely changing up their workouts or manipulating volume and frequency demands, they should all be massive by now, and they're not.

I get that all that's often needed for stimulating gains is a change in application, and that this is preferable to counting on failure to provide a new stimulus. But what to do when nothing's been working for weeks or months? Overloading the stumulus by going to failure would not add that last bit of variation to get things moving again? Anyone who says he doesn't need to go to failure is someone who has no interest in testing the limits of potential. And that's fine. But I train to failure because I'm willing to do what is necessary to test my limits genetically and mentally.
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Turpin

S.M.Punisher wrote:
What baffles me about these people who say they don't need to train to failure is ........they should all be massive by now, and they're not.



Most would out perform you in lean muscle mass and strength. No ?

T.

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Brian Johnston

Ontario, CAN

And does't that suggest there are DIFFERENT ways to stimulate and with different outcomes? Now, there is the issue of genetics, but I have trained those who are less and more than myself who have achieved beyond what they had before. Still limited by genetics, but still not realizing their potentials due to limitations in training directives.
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