PUSHING PAST FAILURE
A while back I read the words of a very well respected coach in the bodybuilding industry, in one of his many articles, which resonated quite profoundly with me. He said, “If you want your muscles to grow, you cannot just whisper at them – you have to SCREAM!” This simple, yet very wise statement is a great commentary on what it takes to build an extraordinary physique.
Many well-intentioned individuals go into the gym each day with a solid plan – using basic, foundational movements and executing them with proper form. They work pretty hard, and focus on feeling their muscles throughout each rep, while perhaps pushing most sets to the point of momentary muscular failure. However, except for the extremely genetically gifted, this may still not be enough to bring about the degree of hypertrophy that most desire. This is exactly why you may be forced to “scream” at your muscles, which means venturing further into the pain zone by pushing your sets BEYOND momentary muscular failure.
Are you happy with your current level of progress? Are you done whispering? Perhaps the time has come to GET LOUD!
Techniques to PUSH PAST FAILURE
1) Forced Reps – This is when you have a spotter help you complete one (or more reps) once you cannot complete any more under your own power. For example, when performing a seated military press, if 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.
2) Cheat Reps – This is when you loosen up your form just a bit and allow for the use of some body English (or momentum) to complete a few more full repetitions. For example, if doing a set of DB side laterals, when you reach the point where another strict rep is impossible, you can begin to “swing” the weight up using a slight bend in the torso to help initiate the movement.
3) Drop Sets – This is when you complete a set to failure and then push forward by immediately decreasing the weight by about 15-20% in order to continue the exercise until once again reaching failure. Highly advanced lifters can actually use multiple drops within the same set before calling it quits.
4) Negatives – This is when you have reached failure and then have a spotter help you complete the positive portion of the next several reps (unlike a forced rep, the spotter should help you lift the weight as quickly as possible) so that you can lower (aka, the eccentric contraction) the bar, DB, or machine resistance very slowly (2-4 seconds) and with complete control.
5) 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 lifts such as bench presses, squats, deadlifts, etc. where a spotter is needed and the possibility of injury is high.
Author’s Note: Going beyond failure is not for beginners since most at this level of experience will build lean tissue quite efficiently by simply training near, or to, initial muscular failure. Only intermediate and advanced trainees (2-4 years experience) should push themselves to these extreme levels, as their muscles/CNS are adequately prepared for the rigors of such intense training.