Beyond Failure Training

You don’t hear much about “Beyond Failure” Training anymore. That’s mostly because both its creator, Trevor Smith, and its highest profile acolyte, Mat DuVall, died young. In the early years of this decade, BFT was an “underground” sensation in the vein of Doggcrapp, bandied about on bodybuilding message boards and frequently oversold as the secret to unlimited muscle growth. Largely, this was because of Smith himself, who weighed more than 400 pounds and was celebrated for his phenomenal strength. We’re going to cut through the hyperbole to detail what Beyond Failure can and cannot do for your bodybuilding workouts.

FAILURE POINTS

“First and foremost, it is imperative to understand that the body is capable of a lot more than we tend to give it credit for. Somewhere along the line in the past few years people have been screaming ‘overtraining’ to the point of making me want to vomit,” wrote Smith on a bodybuilding forum in 2000 as an introduction to his program. He brought both a science degree and the pain-defeating discipline that earned him a fourth-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu to Beyond Failure Training. In a nutshell, BFT is a high-intensity, low-volume system for pushing sets far beyond full-rep failure with forced reps and dropsets. As Smith made abundantly clear, its principal component is pain. You need to be willing to complete the majority of your reps when your muscles are ordering you to stop.

This is how a typical BFT set goes. Let’s say you begin an exercise with 200 pounds, with which you reach failure at 8–10 reps. Your training partner then assists you with 6-8 forced reps. Immediately after, the weight is reduced by 30-40%, and you get as many full reps with 120–130 as you can. Having just reached failure and then gone beyond with forced reps, you’ll probably get only 3–5 reps with this much-lighter weight before reaching failure again. Your partner then assists with another 6–8 forced reps. After that, repeat. The weight is reduced by 30–40%, you hit failure with the 70-90 pounds, probably getting 3–5 reps, and your partner then assists with another 6–8 excruciating forced reps. That extended set consisted of six subsets, and you’ve racked up a total of 33–44 reps. The key is that virtually all those reps, beyond the first six or so, were at or near failure points.

 

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SLAYING DEMONS

Because one BFT set is like six tofailure sets in one, very few such sets are necessary. Typically, you do only one or two per exercise and only two exercises per body part. For larger body parts, the first exercise is isolation and the second is compound. For example, do pec-deck flyes (isolation) for chest followed by Smith machine incline presses (compound). Those are good choices because you can easily reduce the weight and be spotted by your partner. And on the topic of partners, a good one (or two) is mandatory for flawless forced reps as well as quickly reducing weights.

Smith had a second name for BFT. He called it Demon Training, because getting through 30-plus reps of torture with six failure points was like traveling through hell. You need to slay the demons telling you to turn back. Mat DuVall adopted that ethos, and it carried him to the top of the 2003 NPC Nationals. Four-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler is among the many bodybuilders who utilized BFT on occasion. And on occasion is a good way to use BFT. Smith was well aware of BFT’s limitations. You can’t slay demons every day for months on end without burning out. Workouts are brief (no more than 45 minutes) and infrequent (four days a week) with regular breaks to pursue less intense training. (Stay on the program for no more than six weeks.) With those caveats, Demon Training can unleash hellacious gains.

 

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 BEYOND FAILURE BASICS 

  • Sets should have six failure points, consisting of an initial 8-12 reps and two 30-40% drops with forced reps at the end of each of those subsets.
  • You’ll need at least one training partner to assist you with forced reps and drops.
  • Do only one or two sets per exercise and no more than two exercises per body part.
  • Work out four times per week, and train each body part once weekly.

 BEYOND FAILURE TIP SHEET 

  • Whenever possible, pre-exhaust by doing an isolation exercise before a compound exercise.
  • Do BFT for only six continuous weeks, followed by at least four weeks of regular bodybuilding training.
  • Select exercises that will allow you to easily strip weights and be spotted. In this regard, machines often work best. 
  • BFT is extremely painful. Build up your pain tolerance by increasing the number of Beyond Failure sets you do per workout before starting an all-BFT program.

 BEYOND FAILURE QUAD ROUTINE 

Leg Extension | SETS: 2 | REPS: 32–44*

Leg Press | SETS:1 | REPS: 32–44*

*8–10 reps, 6–8 forced reps, reduce weight, 3–5 reps, 6–8 forced reps, reduce weight, 3–5 reps, 6–8 forced reps