In Defense of Training to FAILURE

I give you Tom Platz.

Go to 29:40.

Seen that before. Tom certainly talks the talk and of course he walked the walk too, but how long would your average, natural guy, with a full time job and busy life take to recover from that? As has been pointed out, Dr Ken did 400 plus for 23 reps, all hugely impressive and watchable on You Tube: Dr Ken Leistner 405lbs x23 rep squat - YouTube
but it certainly didn’t give him the size we were all told these 20 rep squat routines would give us. Not to take away from him, I was a huge fan and consider him an iron game legend.

Said it here many time before that Darden’s description of a Tom Platz shoulder workout that opened up his High Intensity Bodybuilding book was where I got bitten by the HIT bug. Best opening of any book ever.

Like Stuke said, Tom talks the talk and walks the walk. And Darden’s accounts of that shoulder workout and many others like Casey, Ray Mentzer and Sergio being pushed by Jones inspired many of us to train in a way we wouldn’t have without those descriptions.

To this day Darden’s great line of " … when most guys are ending their set, Tom is just beginning … " goes through my head during my workouts.

1 Like

Are you tryimg to say that regular guys can’t successfully run 20 rep squat programs?

What the point of these threads? Is someone saying training to failure doesn’t work?

I think we’re pretty open-minded around here. We’re all happy to see both Dorian Yates and Jay Cutler are disgustingly jacked, despite obviously different training protocols.

I’m not trying to start a confrontation; I’m really trying to understand the goal. If it’s just “this was a cool video,” that’s cool and I’m in!


I watched Sergio train and Author Jones was in the room. It wasn’t what I expected. Seemed pretty relaxed to me. Maybe I missed seeing the going to failure and beyond.

Glad you were there and able to share this.

Arthur used different methods and had more variation than most people realize.

There are misconceptions about the early years of what became known as HIT.


I’m not sure what the goal is, or even that there is one. My interpretation is, many of us spent much of our training life, particularly in the earlier years hanging off the notion that we absolutely need to take a set to failure, to work as hard as possible, that anything less would not stimulate growth etc. Now it is refreshing to see quite a different view, particularly here. Clearly, myself included, decent gains have been made trainjng to failure, perhaps not necessarily due to failure, but in spite of it.
Anyway, just my take, I will always remember fondly the heroic writing of Dr Ken, the Tom Platz legendary workouts and so on, brilliantly motivating, however I choose to train these days.

1 Like

For sure! There are a lot of ways to skin this cat; the “right” one changes as we go along and have different goals and constraints. I’m with you

1 Like

I have been a long-time fan of Chad Waterbury, who has just released a new book, and he was asked about this in interview. He stated he has moved away from failure training and pointed to the success of the old Soviet lifters, who generally stayed clear of failure training. Of course, there is the practical safety element: going to failure on DB curls is inherently less dangerous than full back squats.

In previous Waterbury systems, you employed the drop method, e.g. on a 5 x 5, you made sure you got every rep - and that last rep had still had to be explosive, no grinders. For the same rep scheme now, you would use something like an 8RM and perhaps hit near failure on the last rep of the last set.

1 Like

With all respect, I have heard of that old Soviet system of training for so long; however, few (if any) ever mentioned how jacked were all Russian/Soviet powerlifters and bodybuilders. I was born in the Soviet Union and trained there for many years. The scale of steroid use even with regular gym folks who have never competed was enormous because you could get them easily. There are so many jokes in Soviet/Russian bodybuilding folklore about the use of Dianabol… So I recommend taking anything said about Soviet/Russian systems of training with a very large pinch of salt.


I hear you and I’m a bit surprised Chad brought that up. He is a huge admirer of Pavel Tsatsouline, who is not Russian but of Soviet background. To be fair to Chad, in his book he also cites studies where failure training is linked to a drop in IGF 1 and rises in cortisol. But that is clearly a separate point.

Two names came to my mind immediately after your post: Pavel Tsatsouline and Mike Israetel. Both have USSR/Russian origins. There was a book called Big Beyond Belief which was also based on “secret knowledge of Bulgarian weightlifters”. I think they were many more of the same. Combining high volume, high frequency, high loads and relatively high intensity is possible either short-term (1-2 weeks max for natural lifters) or to those who uses PEDs (a lots of them). It’s true that most of young men in USSR/Russia who were drafted to army transformed their physique dramatically (although few of them looked like bodybuilders, but most of them were lean and strong) on a high frequency mixed-type training (running, some calisthenics, kettlebells, martial arts, etc.) and inadequate nutrition. But when it comes to “Soviet weightlifting secrets” - there is no such thing. Just steroids and more steroids.
Personally, I have long since ended training to failure all sets - like any training program, training to failure is a short-lived method which doesn’t work for me any more.

Dr Ken = Horrible example. With lockouts on every rep, that set was the antithesis of bodybuilding.

Can you describe?

I described Tom’s workout on pages 15-20 of High-Intensity Bodybuilding. My photographer friend, Chris Lund, was in California watching Platz train and took pictures of his session. He began with shoulder presses of more than 300 pounds stabilized in a power rack. After several reps, two spotters lowered the resistance, but Platz continued pressing again and again. Soon he was jerking the bar overhead with abandon.

Then, Tom started doing negatives: with heavy resistance on the barbell and the same breakdowns, for rep after rep after rep.

The end result was his shoulders were pumped and fried. Chris Lund then dubbed him Mr. High Intensity and his photos clearly showed a man being punished.

Yes, Tom Platz trained that way – but today I now know a better way, a way that protects your nervous system, produces an equal pump in the shoulders, and allows you to recover and grow in a timely manner.

Furthermore, with the Surge Challenge system, you’ll be in a much safer environment: Without all the slamming and banging that was a part of this early 1980 workout. You do not need to holler and scream to get the best of High Intensity today.