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Pushing Past Muscle Failure

Move beyond muscular failure using any of these intensity methods.

By Eric Broser
Pushing Past Muscle Failure

Normal muscular failure is achieved when one can no longer do another full-range concentric (positive) rep with strict form/technique. “Pushing Past Failure” (or PPF) is when a set is continued beyond this point utilizing one or more “intensity” methods described below.

1) Cheat Reps - This is when you loosen up your form a bit and use some body english or momentum to complete a few more full repetitions. For example, if doing a set of barbell curls, when you reach the point where another strict rep is impossible, you begin to “swing” the weight up using a slight bend of the torso at the beginning of each rep, and perhaps lean back a bit to complete the rep. The point here is to use the LEAST amount of cheating possible to complete the rep.

2) Forced Reps - This is when you have a spotter help you complete one or more reps once you cannot complete any more on your own. For example, during a bench press, when you get stuck at the midway point in the range of motion your spotter will pull up on the bar just enough to allow you to complete the rep. Your spotter should apply the LEAST amount of pressure possible to help you finish the rep(s).

3) Negatives - This is when you have reached failure and a spotter helps you complete the positive portion of the next rep or reps (unlike a forced rep, the spotter helps you get the bar back to the top with you using the least amount of force possible) so that you can lower the bar as slowly and with as much control as possible. After positive (concentric) failure is achieved, the muscle will still have not reached negative (eccentric) failure and thus the set can be continued using lowering phase of the rep.

4) Rest/Pause - This is when you pick a weight that you know you can only get for about 4-6 reps on your own. Once you reach failure you set the weight down for about 15 seconds. You then pick up the weight again and attempt to get another 1-3 reps at which point you set the weight down again for another 15 seconds. You then repeat the process. This can be done perhaps 3-4 times before the entire rest/pause set is complete.

5) Drop Sets - This is when you lift a weight to failure and then continue the set by removing 15-20% of the weight off the bar (or grabbing lighter dumbbells if it’s a dumbbell exercise) and continue to lift with no rest. This process may be repeated 2-3 times before the set is terminated. This works particularly well with dumbbell exercises in what is called “down the rack sets.” This is where you begin an exercise, like side laterals for example, with say 35 lb dumbbells, and when you reach failure you go to the 25s, 15s, then 5s. Yes, its pretty painful…but effective!

6) Partials - This is when you perform half reps and quarter reps after reaching the point of “full-range” failure. This produces a very painful lactic acid burn in the muscle especially when the short-range reps are performed rapidly. This intensity technique is best used on exercises like curls, laterals, leg extensions, leg curls, and similar movements, but is not conducive to bench presses, squats, deadlifts, etc. where a spotter is needed and the danger level is high.

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