You're on your seventh rep of heavy benches and the bar's moving ever so slowly. The eighth is even slower and the ninth even more so. At 10 you have to rack it; another rep is just not possible. You've trained to failure and you're done. But does that have to be all she wrote? Are you really at muscular failure, all fibers spent?
If you were benching 250 pounds, the failure threshold was being unable to do an 11th rep with 250—not that your pec muscles had absolutely no strength left. You could have done that 11th rep, and probably a 12th and 13th, with 200 pounds, taking you nearer to real muscular failure. Coming on top of those first 10 reps at 250, the last three reps would've stressed your pecs substantially more and led to greater muscle-fiber damage. And greater muscle damage means the body's recovery system must adapt to meet this new level of stress by building your muscles bigger and stronger. Bottom line, if you prolong the set, you prolong the intensity, increase muscle stress and enhance muscle gains.
Here we outline three of our favorite techniques for prolonging the duration and intensity of a normal set, taking you beyond accepted failure and therefore accelerating muscle gains—forced reps, rest-pause and drop sets. Each section was compiled with the expert assistance of three top bodybuilders, giving you just what you need to implement the techniques at various times in your workout. Passing grades require complete failure—beyond "normal' muscle failure, that is.