T Nation

Confused About Training to Failure


Okay, this is gonna be one of the MOST basic of questions, but it's always been something that I've been uncertain of. It's regarding sets and reps. Say I wanted to do 3 sets of 10 reps with a certain weight, taking the last set to failure- what exactly do I do??

  • Do I take one weight with which I can do 10 reps on my first 2 sets (stopping at 10 even if I can do more,) but which I fail at around the 10th rep on only the last set?
  • Do I select a weight with which I will fail at around 8-10 reps on all 3 sets?
  • Do I change weights between sets, making me fail at around 8-10 reps on all 3 sets?
    Yes, I know, total beginner question, but it confuses me sometimes...


I'm a beginner too but I would interpret that particular set/rep scheme the first way, using the same weight for all three sets, having selected a weight that will cause you to fail or approach failure on the last rep of the third set. You would probably not be at failure at the end of each of the first two sets.




You can do it any way you like, there's really no "rules", but what I would recommend if someone was looking at "3x10" is to do 3 progressively heavier sets until your third set is the heaviest weight you can handle for around 10 reps (6-10).

For example, if you were going to bench press 200lbs, 3x10, I personally would do it like this:

100lbs x 10 (not to failure, warming up the muscles)
150lbs x 10 (not to failure, only a little challenging)
200lbs x 6-10 (to failure, if you get less than 10, come back to that weight next week, if you get 10 or more, move up in weight for next week).


Granted, there are many different ways to do a workout that could be described as 3x10 (if ignoring all the other factors). However, I'm guessing that the original poster is probably following some published program. In your example, with the relatively extreme jumps in the pyramiding, there's really only one work set preceded by two warm-up sets (assuming that all three sets are done in the same fashion, not some scheme where the first set is ballistic, second set explosive, third set max effort or something like that). I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that's probably not what the author of the published program intended.

Maybe it would help if the original poster gave us more details on the program.


So? It's still the best option out of those given so far in terms of progression.

The only requirement is that the OP has to be able to muster up the intensity to truly push himself and not just quit the set when he reaches some predetermined rep number. or "burning" in his muscles/fatigue. This also requires that one has access to a good spotter, a power rack, a smith machine, or is using DB's for all of their pressing work.

Some people don't like training like this, and for them they'd probably be better off with the straight set method as the accumulated fatigue will somewhat make up for their lack of intensity. For most people it won't allow for the same rate of strength progression (especially after their newbie gains end) though.


It gets exceedingly tedious for me to have to keep saying this, but the basic problem continues to remain:

Different people use the word "to failure" to mean different things and usually there is NO WAY to tell from the context what they mean.

Therefore, anyone replying to you may have read your post with interpretation totally different than what you meant, and when reading anyone's post, you may interpret what they are talking about totally different than what they meant.

Many people routinely use the phrase "to failure" for a set where no failure of any kind occurred, every rep attempted was successfully lifted and in proper form. They call it "to failure" because the last rep was hard, or because they guess they couldn't have gotten another, or because -- not actually putting in any blood and guts effort -- they decided to let the spotter help on the last rep.

At the other other extreme, other people use the term "to failure" to refer only to that condition where you damn well keep attempting reps till steam comes out of your ears, and if the bar stops you damn well fight with every drop of energy you can find in your nervous system to try to get it moving again come hell or high water. And if it doesn't move further upwards then that is only despite your absolute utmost effort to make it do so.

These are two totally different things.

There are also intermediate meanings.

The answers to your questions depend totally on what you mean by the term -- and no one has any way at this point of knowing what you do mean -- and whether a given answer is applicable to your questions depends on whether the person replying has the same meaning in mind that you do, which again we have absolutely no way to know.

It's not your fault: it's just a common phrase that causes far more miscommunication than communication.


just lift fukin weights. if you are getting bigger and stronger you are doing it right.