I’ve been thinking a lot about what clients feel and comment on when they are at the point of momentary muscle fatigue (failure) in an exercise – the point where you are literally incapable of lifting the weight again.
When strength training, to feel as if you’ve succeeded when you fail to raise the weight for the last repetition is very hard for a lot of people to feel.
I STILL have clients who have been training with me for a decade or more apologize to me when muscle failure happens. Kills me to hear them say this because it makes me realize I have failed THEM.
Bottom line: To fail during a set of an exercise when strength training is to succeed.
To put it another way, to tucker yourself out during a set of an exercise to the point where you are incapable of lifting the weight another time means you have succeeded in utilizing most, if not all of the muscle fibers in that particular set of muscles.
In other words, you have capably become incapable of lifting the weight and thus have set in motion the metabolic milieu necessary for becoming stronger.
In other, other words, you’ve succeeded.
In tennis when you ace the opposing player on a serve, you feel very capable. You feel successful.
When bowling, getting a strike or spare feels very enlivening. It’s what you strive for every frame of every game. Again, you feel successful.
In Yoga you strive to get the movement or posture perfectly correct. When you do, success is yours.
In strength training the goal of failing is totally counterintuitive. It’s plain ol’ weird.
Most trainers say to their clients something to this effect:
"Do 10 reps on the first set, 8 on the second and 6 on the third."
They then choose a weight for the client that will allow them to achieve these numbers. When they do they feel good. They feel like they got a strike, aced the opponent or perfected the downward dog. They feel successful.
But achieving an arbitrary number of repetitions when strength training will result in arbitrary progress.
Training to failure ensures that you have created the necessary stimulation to spark a positive physical change – a strength/growth response.
Failure to train to failure might result in results or it might not. I mean, how not to failure should you train? 1 rep less? 2?
When you bowl a 300 – a perfect game (or when you bowl a darn good one), you get satisfaction right then and there. Not so with strength training.
Benefits from strength training take time. They are in no way immediate or sudden. Strength training is more of a chore, a have-to, a ‘here-we-go, once more into the breach!’ event that eventually results in the results we desire. But immediately gratifying it is not.
"If you fail to plan you plan to fail"
is a truism for many things in life. But in strength training we say it this way:
"If you plan to fail and fail you do, success is yours."