Training

The Ins and Outs of Training to Failure

Train to failure for show-stopping gains.

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 EXERCISE SELECTION 

Here is where you’ll find the most room for debate. Can any exercise be taken to failure? What’s best for the purpose — machines or compound, multijoint lifts performed with free weights?

ADVANTAGES OF TRAINING TO FAILURE WITH MACHINES

  • Exhausting your muscles with machine lifts allows you to train to “true” failure as previously defined — the point where your form breaks down.
  • With machines, you’re locked into a movement pattern or groove that doesn’t allow you to cheat — and doesn’t permit breakdowns in technique — so when you’re done, you know you’ve reached true failure.
  • Machines help you more efficiently get blood into your muscles when training to failure, because you’re isolating a specific muscle and concentrating solely on working through a lactic-acid burn.
  • There’s less of a psychological aspect to machine failure, because machine lifts are generally accessory lifts that don’t require significant amounts of mental preparation to perform. You don’t have to psych yourself up to do, say, lat pulldowns or cable crossovers the same way you would before you bench or squat.

ADVANTAGES OF TRAINING TO FAILURE WITH COMPOUND LIFTS

  • Compound, multijoint lifts — the bench press, squat and deadlift — give you the best bang for your buck in terms of the amount of muscle fibers you’ll be able to stimulate within the constraints of a set.
  • Training to failure with compound lifts builds mental toughness that you won’t get from machines or isolation movements. “People want to go into the gym and do the little pansy exercises,” says Farnsworth, “but the only way to get there is through compound moves.”
  • Studies have shown that selectively training to failure during compound lifts can increase overall muscular strength across all lifts.

 

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