Training to Failure: Part 1

If I had to pick one thing that holds people back more than anything else it would probably be training to failure. Of course, proper program design, a good diet and a lot of sleep are the three biggest keys. But, assuming those bases are covered, I firmly believe there is nothing more detrimental to your progress than training to failure on a regular basis.

After nearly two decades in the industry I’m at the point where I can watch someone train for 30 minutes and instantly spit out on-the-money predictions about what kind of progress they will make in the next 12-16 weeks. And I’m no brain surgeon.

If they routinely use extra psyche techniques before sets, do slow, grinding reps, let their form get sloppy, scream their way through the end of a set, or really do anything less than technically perfect, explosive reps throughout the course of a workout I know for a fact, exactly what’s going to happen. I’ve just seen it way too many times.

The end result is they make minimal gains, their central nervous systems get fried, their joints get beat up and they always feel like shit.

Those Who “Get it” & Those Who Don’t

In my gym we have some people who get it. Because they get it they make continual progress and never get injured. Those that don’t get it make gains at a snails pace and accumulate nagging injuries over time.

This week we’re testing maxes. We do this no more than four times per year because doing so is too stressful on the CNS. What we will see this week is that the ones who get it will make fantastic progress. Those that don’t will only be up a few pounds, if at all. Some will be weaker.

Now, trust me; I wish it wasn’t like this. I love to train insanely hard. Cranking up some Black Flag and head butting a wall before every set used to be a way of life for me. Nothing sounds like more fun, in fact. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. And that makes me sad. I really wish it did because I love high intensity training in theory. It also makes for a hell of a training atmosphere.

You have to ask yourself, though; do want results or do you want to have fun?

I want both but at the end of the day if my numbers are climbing that’s a lot more fun to me than doing the same weights I did three weeks ago and grinding them up with shitty form. Which is exactly what happens when you go to failure all the time; you make zero progress or you get weaker.

Then you get injured.

It all sucks.

Trust me; I experienced it for years.

So What Do You Do?

For starters, you decide that results are the most important thing. When you accept that you have no choice but to ditch the training to failure routine. I did it a while ago and it’s made a world of difference. Everyone I’ve convinced to do the same has experienced similar, outstanding results.

This is not an excuse not to train hard. You always have to train hard. On a side note, be on the lookout for my inevitable follow up article coming out in a few months entitled, Train Like a Man, You F*cking Pussy.

Every rep you do should be performed as explosively as possible with ONE HUNDRED PERCENT effort. A lot of people don’t get this. They leisurely cruise their warm up sets while whistling Dixie. This is a HUGE mistake.

Always treat light weight like it’s heavy. Warm up and “work up sets” are practice sets. Do them exactly like you will do your heaviest sets; with maximal tension throughout your body and maximal acceleration throughout each rep. When you do them slowly and sloppily you are missing out on the CNS arousal benefits, losing an opportunity to perfect your technique and are more likely to get injured.

The fact is more injuries occur with light weights than do with heavy weights. That’s because people don’t respect a light weight like they do a heavy weight.

When you get to your work sets be sure you always crush every single one of them with explosive speed and power. Make that set your bitch. Don’t ever let it get the best of you and start squirming and slowly grinding your way to the finish.

When you do that you’re fucked.

Plain and simple.

Never do slow, grinding death reps. And NEVER, EVER miss a rep in training or have a partner assist you in getting the weight up.

Never, ever, ever? (Andre 3000 asks)


When you miss a rep you may as well take the rest of whatever training cycle you’re on off. Because your chances of going up next workout after a missed rep that actually came back down on you are pretty dismal. My advice would to take a week off and start something new.


Stay tuned for Part 2  where I’ll cover:

  • How close to failure you should go
  • If beginners can or should go to failure
  • How training to failure affects athletes
  • How training to failure affects the training environment

In the meantime drop me a comment below and let me hear about your experiences with training to failure.

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