T Nation

Training to Failure

Why do we do it? Why are two sets of five reps at 50 lbs not as efficient as one set of ten reps at 50 lbs? From the research I’ve done there’s basically no reason. Muscle fiber recruitment has shown to be highest in the middle reps of a set, so why not stop there and get that benefit twice? It would also be sufficiently less stress on the CNS.

Looking forward to responses! Asked a personal trainer at my gym why, and he said that’s what makes the muscle grow. I just want to know why it would induce hypertrophy more efficiently, if it is true. It’s so widely taught that no one questions it. Even training 2 reps short of failure from what I’ve researched is sort of futile, you might as well stop a little earlier leaving up to five reps in the tank, and just do another set.

Looking forward to some interesting responses, thanks guys!

[quote]DoIEvenLift wrote:
Why do we do it? Why are two sets of five reps at 50 lbs not as efficient as one set of ten reps at 50 lbs? From the research I’ve done there’s basically no reason. Muscle fiber recruitment has shown to be highest in the middle reps of a set, so why not stop there and get that benefit twice? It would also be sufficiently less stress on the CNS. Looking forward to responses! Asked a personal trainer at my gym why, and he said that’s what makes the muscle grow. I just want to know why it would induce hypertrophy more efficiently, if it is true. It’s so widely taught that no one questions it. Even training 2 reps short of failure from what I’ve researched is sort of futile, you might as well stop a little earlier leaving up to five reps in the tank, and just do another set. Looking forward to some interesting responses, thanks guys![/quote]

You should ask Chris thibs he seems to be big on this. I agree that accumulation of fatigue and volume works better then HIT/ failure/ whatever. I do go to failure sometimes and do partials and intensity techniques. Basically we are training muscle and not our CNS.

I understand that we’re training the muscle, but if you’re moving the same weight for the same reps won’t the muscle be just as taxed and torn? And the reason I value CNS recovery in training the muscle is a happy CNS in my mind is equivalent to a good training session and the more good training sessions I can get, the better!

[quote]DoIEvenLift wrote:
I understand that we’re training the muscle, but if you’re moving the same weight for the same reps won’t the muscle be just as taxed and torn? And the reason I value CNS recovery in training the muscle is a happy CNS in my mind is equivalent to a good training session and the more good training sessions I can get, the better![/quote]

I think we just agreed :wink:

Why don’t you try it for a few months and see how it goes. I feel certain that I get more out of doing 1 set of 15 on bench at 225 than I would doing 3 sets of 5. Same with a set of 6 at 290 than two sets of 3.

If you are working at 10 reps for hypertrophy with a given weight adequate to challenge the muscles and achieve a training effect, then make two sets of half the reps- you aren’t challenging the muscle enough to illicit a training effect with either set. There is a period in between the sets in which some recovery from the anaerobic exercise will take place and there just isn’t much of any challenge for the muscles to adapt to.

For more detailed information on exactly what happens look up the body’s metabolic systems or energy production cycles and how it responds to anaerobic exercise.

[quote]DoIEvenLift wrote:
I understand that we’re training the muscle, but if you’re moving the same weight for the same reps won’t the muscle be just as taxed and torn? [/quote]

No it wont.

When training for hypertrophy you must think of what causes hypertrophy. Now there will always be some debate on this issue but many lifters will agree that for hypertrophy to occur we need to stress the muscle and we need some time under tension.
8-12 reps with a controlled eccentric phase should last around 40 seconds or more and this has been proven to be in the hypertrophy zone.

Now the weight used must put the muscle under stress thus why many bodybuilders will push a set to failure. The muscle now has adequate stress to grow plus enough time under tension to grow. This is all pretty simplistic but you get the point.

This is only one form of stimulus though and there are some lifters who don’t train to failure and still get results and the reason is there are other forms of stimulus that can be used.

I once asked Eric Cressey about one of his programs and when we were meant to take a set to failure and his answer was, “I don’t believe you should ever take a set to failure”. He trains for performance though which is different to hypertrophy.

[quote]Ecchastang wrote:
Why don’t you try it for a few months and see how it goes. I feel certain that I get more out of doing 1 set of 15 on bench at 225 than I would doing 3 sets of 5. Same with a set of 6 at 290 than two sets of 3. [/quote]

I am actually trying it out, I designed a plan for it and am working on it!

And in response to everyone else, why do the first five reps not stress the muscle but the last five do? I’d love some links to read, too. I have no point to prove, I’m just trying to straighten out my training philosophy because as of late it’s been getting really sketchy with so many opinions from different people everywhere. On EFS I read that there was a study where high frequency training was used on elite athletes and they were able to induce significant hypertrophy in the quads, around 15% growth, in 12 weeks. And in elite athletes thats huge. That’s why I’m having trouble believing that the stress from the first five is not the same as the last five, because in this study They only worked with 3-8 reps and the weights used were around their 11 RMs. Totally ready to learn here!

articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/reignite-progress-with-new-science/
Thats the article I read that made me messed up in the head :S

Also, isn’t the stress created by 40-45 second hypertrophy training mostly due to the lack of oxygen and satellite cell recruitment? What would happen if you already had a day for oxidative stress training, would you be able to do the 2 sets of 5? Because I thought your muscles were sort of dumb and that a rep is a rep when it comes to tearing the fiber

^^^ WOW^^^ I’ll have to go back and re-read that a few times, but thanks for the repost, I think !

[quote]DoIEvenLift wrote:
http://articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/reignite-progress-with-new-science/
Thats the article I read that made me messed up in the head :S
[/quote]

If you read the article, they warm up, then take the first set to failure, then the subsequent sets of the same weight are not taken to failure, but the muscles have already been taxed once. That is completely different than what you were describing earlier. Also using occlusion you are attempting to mimic the lack of oxygen in a failure set.

Well trapping glycolytic metabolites in the muscle causes cellular stress and hence an anaerobic adaptation, including but not limited to an increase in the amount of stuff your mitochondria will hold resulting in bigger fuller muscles and more anaerobic work capacity. One of the big premises behind the pump actually, other than the blood shuttling goodies in there.

Additionally it does train the CNS, as muscles and nerves fatigue and accumulate their own little byproducts impulse frequency drops so the brain has to work harder to get everything moving, thus making your nerve pathways more efficient, creates a demand for additional nerves and motor unit recruitment which will ultimately make you stronger and tap into muscle fibers you weren’t using before. This is why your average bodybuilder is certainly not weak, even though they may not be as strong as someone who trains up to max rep ranges such as a PLer.

So it makes you bigger, it makes you stronger, cranks up the workout intensity, the only reason one could have for wanting to split up sets that I could see is to simply be able to perform more physical work through total reps with a given exercise and burn more calories. The difficulty of the exercise with the selected weight should dictate how many reps you should do, if you can hit 10 reps then splitting it into 2 sets is just an extra rest period and a shitter pump. Thats my 2 cents.

Well trapping glycolytic metabolites in the muscle causes cellular stress and hence an anaerobic adaptation, including but not limited to an increase in the amount of stuff your mitochondria will hold resulting in bigger fuller muscles and more anaerobic work capacity. One of the big premises behind the pump actually, other than the blood shuttling goodies in there.

Additionally it does train the CNS, as muscles and nerves fatigue and accumulate their own little byproducts impulse frequency drops so the brain has to work harder to get everything moving, thus making your nerve pathways more efficient, creates a demand for additional nerves and motor unit recruitment which will ultimately make you stronger and tap into muscle fibers you weren’t using before. This is why your average bodybuilder is certainly not weak, even though they may not be as strong as someone who trains up to max rep ranges such as a PLer.

So it makes you bigger, it makes you stronger, cranks up the workout intensity, the only reason one could have for wanting to split up sets that I could see is to simply be able to perform more physical work through total reps with a given exercise and burn more calories. The difficulty of the exercise with the selected weight should dictate how many reps you should do, if you can hit 10 reps then splitting it into 2 sets is just an extra rest period and a shitter pump. Thats my 2 cents.

[quote]c.m.l. wrote:
Well trapping glycolytic metabolites in the muscle causes cellular stress and hence an anaerobic adaptation, including but not limited to an increase in the amount of stuff your mitochondria will hold resulting in bigger fuller muscles and more anaerobic work capacity. One of the big premises behind the pump actually, other than the blood shuttling goodies in there.

Additionally it does train the CNS, as muscles and nerves fatigue and accumulate their own little byproducts impulse frequency drops so the brain has to work harder to get everything moving, thus making your nerve pathways more efficient, creates a demand for additional nerves and motor unit recruitment which will ultimately make you stronger and tap into muscle fibers you weren’t using before. This is why your average bodybuilder is certainly not weak, even though they may not be as strong as someone who trains up to max rep ranges such as a PLer.

So it makes you bigger, it makes you stronger, cranks up the workout intensity, the only reason one could have for wanting to split up sets that I could see is to simply be able to perform more physical work through total reps with a given exercise and burn more calories. The difficulty of the exercise with the selected weight should dictate how many reps you should do, if you can hit 10 reps then splitting it into 2 sets is just an extra rest period and a shitter pump. Thats my 2 cents.[/quote]

Thank you so much. Now I understand the underlying principles for the training closer to failure. I appreciate your response and it explains a ton.

[quote]Ecchastang wrote:

[quote]DoIEvenLift wrote:
http://articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/reignite-progress-with-new-science/
Thats the article I read that made me messed up in the head :S
[/quote]

If you read the article, they warm up, then take the first set to failure, then the subsequent sets of the same weight are not taken to failure, but the muscles have already been taxed once. That is completely different than what you were describing earlier. Also using occlusion you are attempting to mimic the lack of oxygen in a failure set. [/quote]
That was only the first third, the second two thirds of the article describe the frequency project

[quote]c.m.l. wrote:
Well trapping glycolytic metabolites in the muscle causes cellular stress and hence an anaerobic adaptation, including but not limited to an increase in the amount of stuff your mitochondria will hold resulting in bigger fuller muscles and more anaerobic work capacity. One of the big premises behind the pump actually, other than the blood shuttling goodies in there.

Additionally it does train the CNS, as muscles and nerves fatigue and accumulate their own little byproducts impulse frequency drops so the brain has to work harder to get everything moving, thus making your nerve pathways more efficient, creates a demand for additional nerves and motor unit recruitment which will ultimately make you stronger and tap into muscle fibers you weren’t using before. This is why your average bodybuilder is certainly not weak, even though they may not be as strong as someone who trains up to max rep ranges such as a PLer.

So it makes you bigger, it makes you stronger, cranks up the workout intensity, the only reason one could have for wanting to split up sets that I could see is to simply be able to perform more physical work through total reps with a given exercise and burn more calories. The difficulty of the exercise with the selected weight should dictate how many reps you should do, if you can hit 10 reps then splitting it into 2 sets is just an extra rest period and a shitter pump. Thats my 2 cents.[/quote]

Would it be feasible to have a day specifically for the pump like that, then have days just for the muscle tearing?

Absolutely in fact its not uncommon for people to have submaximal workouts focused on the pump, by shuttling nutrients into the muscle it aids in recovery as well. However I would sum it up as a ‘hypertrophy day’ and I have had some success focusing on tearing the muscle as you say by doing moves through big ROM and holding big stretches following a pump as the increased blood volume lessens the amount that the muscle wants to stretch and you can microtrauma it a little more by doing this. My personal routines tend to be focused on heavy maximal lifting first, then move on to hypertrophy style training after in the same workout but many people seperate their days into a strength/power aspect vs a hypertrophy aspect and I have been seperating my days lately as I am currently dieting and the reduced calories, less energy, and susceptibility to injury make it difficult and less prudent to max 2x per week per push/pull/legs as I normally attempt to.

If you’re worried about stressing the CNS or injury or whatever, I think it would be simple to just keep a rep or so in the tank on the big compound movements, but then got to failure or beyond on isolation or auxiliary movements. That’s a best of bot worlds IMO, and is good whether you do a big movement first followed by iso stuff in the same workout, or do the ‘Power days and Hypertrophy days separate’ strategy.

A recovery workout, the next day is somthing we like to do with our young athlete’s, this is where a sled can be awesome, you can design workouts with no negative’s ( no lowering of the weight ) push the sled, and walk up to it, push the sled and walk up to it. Pumping the muscle up, with no ‘‘tearing of fiber’s’’ This is the theory, anyway. I just no it help’s with recovery. Good thread !