Training to failure on EVERY set?

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    Training to failure on EVERY set?


    Simply stated in the title, is training to failure on every set necessary for maximum muscle growth? I have made tremendous gains over the years using this technique, but like every bodybuilder, I am always looking for better ways to train to maximize muscle growth. Despite the progress I've made, I can't help but wonder if I could have made it faster, and if training to failure on every set has lead to overtraining.

    I usually perform 10 exercises on average for each bodypart; all sets taken to failure.

    I have followed the "failure" philosophy because I have always believed that the best way to achieve muscle growth is to force the muscles to handle both more weight and more reps than they are use to handling. If you can handle a weight for a max of 12 reps, but stop at rep 10....well then, what's the point of that set because your muscles are use to handling it for 10 reps. 10 reps is nothing new or shocking, and therefore wouldn't elicit growth.

    HOWEVER...on the other hand, I recently read an article in Ironman Magazine (Dec.2006) with a research study that found that subjects who trained to failure on every set of each each exercise showed lower levels of serum testosterone and IGF-1, and higher levels of IGFBP-3 (a binding protein of insulin), than subjects who didn't train to failure on every set of every exercise. Subjects in both groups gained similar amounts of strength.

    Izquierdo, M., et al. (2006). Strength training leading to failure induces insulinlike growth factor 1 reduction and IGFBP-3 elevation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38:S287

    It seems to me that the long term effects of this is reduced muscle growth to the "natural" bodybuilder.

    Also, there's part of me that CAN understand stopping a set at rep 10, rather than at rep 12 which would be failure with that weight. According to Ironman researchers Johnnathan Lawson and Steve Holman, there are 3 different types of muscle fibers. You have your low threshold muscle fibers that are usually the greatest in quantity and fire in the 7-9 rep range. You then have your medium threshold muscle fibers that fire in the 10-12ish rep range. And you have your high endurance muscle fibers that fire after the low and medium have fired, and they fire in the 13-15 or 20ish rep range.

    So, if you stop a set short of failure, yet you're able to get the low and medium threshold motor/muscle fiber units to fire, thus resulting in growth stimulation, wouldn't that be sufficient for muscle growth? Granted you can't pick up a 15lb dumbell, curl 9 reps, and call it good. It would have to be a weight where you hit failure at 12 or so.

    So, what is everyone's take on this? Train to failure on every set? Train to failure on the last set of each exercise? etc?

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    Please explain your routine a little more. 10 exercises per body part and....?

    Mutliple sets or 1 warm up & 1 working set?

    I am most familiar with the Nautilus & Mentzer methods of failure routines and they only do 1 or 2 exercises per body part and have a substantial rest/recovery period between workouts.

    Overtraining is always possible in any type of routine.
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    There are 3 points to weight training
    Frequency (how often you hit each muscle)
    Intensity (how much work each set places on a muscle)
    Volume (number of sets)

    It is imporatant to mix these up, as doing so will prevent plateaus. Keep in mind that when you increase one, you should decrease one of more as well.

    When I go to complete failure on each set, I do no more than 8 sets in a 2 week period per muscle.
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    You'll have to excuse me. I"ve been reading a lot lately and doing a lot of research (both for pleasure in the pursuit of bodybuilding, and with college and finals week and all the studying that comes with it.)

    Failure, as I had forgotten, is not really muscular failure. It is Central Nervous System failure...or crapout basically. When you can lift, push, and pull no more, it is your CNS that is failing, not your muscles. The crapout of your CNS is a protective mechanism to prevent complete muscular failure. Because if you brought your muscles to failure, you wouldn't be able to move that muscle at all. You'd be handicapped.

    So, I should in effect re-phrase my question and ask this. How many reps shy of failure should you stop to effectively stimulate muscle growth? If you're working with a weight of 350lbs, and "failure" is at 12 reps, do you stop at rep 8,9,10,11???
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    Forget the silly name of this link, it has some good info on the various types of muscle fibers.

    TeenBodybuilding.com - Shane Giese - Slow & Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers.

    As for me, I train to failure only if I'm increasing the weights. As an example, tonight was my chest and tri routine and I've recently went up to the next DB weight size. I try to get 10-12 reps at a specific weight before I increase the weight again. Tonight I could only manage 7 reps until I hit failure. Next week I will shoot for 8 reps, and keep increasing until I get to 12. Then I shoot for 3 full sets at that weight. Some weeks I just don't "have it", but I don't intentionally set out to train to failure.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terminator LMG
    You'll have to excuse me. I"ve been reading a lot lately and doing a lot of research (both for pleasure in the pursuit of bodybuilding, and with college and finals week and all the studying that comes with it.)

    Failure, as I had forgotten, is not really muscular failure. It is Central Nervous System failure...or crapout basically. When you can lift, push, and pull no more, it is your CNS that is failing, not your muscles. The crapout of your CNS is a protective mechanism to prevent complete muscular failure. Because if you brought your muscles to failure, you wouldn't be able to move that muscle at all. You'd be handicapped.

    So, I should in effect re-phrase my question and ask this. How many reps shy of failure should you stop to effectively stimulate muscle growth? If you're working with a weight of 350lbs, and "failure" is at 12 reps, do you stop at rep 8,9,10,11???

    Nothing you said here changed my responce. Go with high intensity (giong to where you cant do any more reps on your own) and low frequency/volume, or go high frequency or volume and go, say, 2 reps away from failure.

    BTW- if you are looking for muscle growth, use a 6-8 rep range IMO. 12 reps wont build muscle very fast.
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    i always train to failure each set...seems to make the most sense to me make your muscles tear as much as possible and get as much out of them as possible
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    Quote Originally Posted by East1600Plus
    i always train to failure each set...seems to make the most sense to me make your muscles tear as much as possible and get as much out of them as possible
    That's always been my philosophy as well. Train to failure, force your muscles to handle more of a workload than they are use to, etc.

    How many sets do you do for say biceps or chest or back when you're pushing/pulling/lifting till you can't get another rep?
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    Quote Originally Posted by spatch
    Nothing you said here changed my responce. Go with high intensity (giong to where you cant do any more reps on your own) and low frequency/volume, or go high frequency or volume and go, say, 2 reps away from failure.

    BTW- if you are looking for muscle growth, use a 6-8 rep range IMO. 12 reps wont build muscle very fast.
    I agree with your original response. When you say high intensity with low volume, how low of volume are you talking?

    6-8 rep range however I have to disagree somewhat with you for optimal levels of building mass. While it is true that the majority of muscle fibers in the major muscle groups are those of low threshold motor units, there are those fibers present that respond to a higher number of reps only. The number of those high endurance fibers may not be as great in quantity as those fibers that respond to a 6-8 rep range, but they do contribute to the overall mass present. So neglecting the high endurance fiber in your training doesn't make any sense to me if you're trying to achieve your muscle's fullest potential in size.

    Look at Olympic sprinters like Ben Johnson. The guy was VERY muscular for a sprinter. Now granted he was suckin' down the horse juice (winstrol), but all of his work and workouts were stressing purely those high endurance muscle fibers...and look at the level of muscular development he achieved by doing so! He grew, and he was muscular!! What I'm getting at is that those people who do not train their high endurance fibers are robbing themselves of optimal gains in muscle mass.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terminator LMG
    I agree with your original response. When you say high intensity with low volume, how low of volume are you talking?

    6-8 rep range however I have to disagree somewhat with you for optimal levels of building mass. While it is true that the majority of muscle fibers in the major muscle groups are those of low threshold motor units, there are those fibers present that respond to a higher number of reps only. The number of those high endurance fibers may not be as great in quantity as those fibers that respond to a 6-8 rep range, but they do contribute to the overall mass present. So neglecting the high endurance fiber in your training doesn't make any sense to me if you're trying to achieve your muscle's fullest potential in size.

    Variety is very important in bodybuilding. Changing up your rep ranges will give you benefits.

    Quote Originally Posted by Terminator LMG
    Look at Olympic sprinters like Ben Johnson. The guy was VERY muscular for a sprinter.
    Look at Ronnie Coleman who usually does very low reps.

    To recap, switch up your rep ranges, with 6-8 being your most common range.
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    i think we also need to define failure. There is inability to perform a rep completely on yoyr own without cheating, with cheating, wiith a spotter failing on the positive portion of the lift and with a spotter failing on the negative portion of the lift.

    Maybe more but those are the ones that come to mind. When I am thinking of going to failure I am using a spotter and failing on the positve portion of the lift. With the last 2-3 reps being assisted more than a touch by the spotter.
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    Quote Originally Posted by glg
    i think we also need to define failure. There is inability to perform a rep completely on yoyr own without cheating, with cheating, wiith a spotter failing on the positive portion of the lift and with a spotter failing on the negative portion of the lift.

    Maybe more but those are the ones that come to mind. When I am thinking of going to failure I am using a spotter and failing on the positve portion of the lift. With the last 2-3 reps being assisted more than a touch by the spotter.
    I am at failure in my oppinion when I can no longer complete a positive portion of a rep on my own. Rarley do I go beyond this point with the help of a spotter.
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    Quote Originally Posted by spatch
    I am at failure in my oppinion when I can no longer complete a positive portion of a rep on my own. Rarley do I go beyond this point with the help of a spotter.
    i do failure + forced reps which i love have my spotter help me rep out 2-3 more then on certain workouts ill do failure+ forced reps + end on a negative i love the pain!!
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    Quote Originally Posted by glg
    i think we also need to define failure. There is inability to perform a rep completely on yoyr own without cheating, with cheating, wiith a spotter failing on the positive portion of the lift and with a spotter failing on the negative portion of the lift.

    Maybe more but those are the ones that come to mind. When I am thinking of going to failure I am using a spotter and failing on the positve portion of the lift. With the last 2-3 reps being assisted more than a touch by the spotter.
    Good call. I tend to think of "failure" as the inability to perform another rep on the positvie portion of the lift no matter how hard you try to force out another rep. So that IMO encompasses the inability to even perform a cheat rep.

    I will go even further and say that failure to me is when you cannot move the weight anymore. By that I mean you can't even move the weight 1/4 of the way up, or even an inch. That to me is failure; when the weight can no longer be moved an inch.
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    Quote Originally Posted by spatch
    Variety is very important in bodybuilding. Changing up your rep ranges will give you benefits.



    Look at Ronnie Coleman who usually does very low reps.

    To recap, switch up your rep ranges, with 6-8 being your most common range.
    The ideal rep range will depend from person to person. Generally speaking it may be true that the majority of lifters will grow from the 6-8 rep range, but not everyone. I know people who simply don't respond to that few # of reps when they use it as their most common rep range. They require 9-12 reps in order to grow, and rarely go lower except when they're looking to increase strength. 9-12 reps provides them with enough time under tension to stimulate muscle growth, and that for them is around 35 seconds.

    So to recap, switching up rep ranges is definitely important. But nobody should except that 6-8 is the golden rule without experimenting with their own unique physiology. They may find out that their body responds wonderfully to 6-8 reps, and they may find out that they don't. In which case they'll have saved themselves a lot of wasted time.
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    If we are looking at optimum rep ranges it makes you wonder about bicycle sprint specialists (you know the guys with HUGE quads) whose rep range is anywhere from 45 - 200 at high intensity and 6000 - 50,000 on lower intensity


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    Quote Originally Posted by CROWLER
    If we are looking at optimum rep ranges it makes you wonder about bicycle sprint specialists (you know the guys with HUGE quads) whose rep range is anywhere from 45 - 200 at high intensity and 6000 - 50,000 on lower intensity


    CROWLER
    Good point Look at the calves on bicyclists! They're frickin' huge!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terminator LMG
    Good point Look at the calves on bicyclists! They're frickin' huge!

    Calves Need high reps on just about everyone. I dont go below 10.
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    Quote Originally Posted by glg
    Maybe more but those are the ones that come to mind. When I am thinking of going to failure I am using a spotter and failing on the positve portion of the lift. With the last 2-3 reps being assisted more than a touch by the spotter.
    What you describe would be going past failure. If you require assistance for the final reps then you've trained past failure. "Failure" is when you can no longer lift under your own strength.

    IMO, it's important to train to failure on every or almost every set (except warmup sets). Going past failure I'm undecided about... I don't do it at all now because I don't have a workout partner. If I did, I'd probably throw it in every once in a while.

    On BB.com and some other boards you will find a lot of pussies who are obsessed with "overtraining" and argue against going to failure. IMO, this obsessions is unwarranted. Pussies.
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    Quote Originally Posted by spatch
    Calves Need high reps on just about everyone. I dont go below 10.
    Point, counter point, and on it goes. Whatever. I think you seem to think I'm advocating high reps. I'm not. My point with your previous posts is that 6-8 reps is not the ideal rep range for everyone. Everyone has variations in their genetic makeup that make their muscular unique. My triceps respond VERY well to 12 reps, and never responded to 6-8 reps. For others, the opposite is true. Other certainly respond better to 8-10 reps, while others grow from 6 reps as their primary rep range. My point, and I think you missed it, was that high reps do have their place in building mass, albeit not as great or significant as rep ranges between 6-12 reps. Variation is definitely key, as everyone has low, medium and high threshold muscle fibers that fire in that order...low, the medium, then high endurance threshold last. The ratio of those fibers varies from person to person, muscle group to muscle group. So everyone needs to spend time experimenting and finding out which rep range each muscle tends to respond best to. High endurance fibers are present and they contribute to the overall mass of the muscle. Their potential should be maximized as well to build optimal mass.
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    Here is what my research has found out about rep ranges for various muscle types.

    Repetition Range Type I Type IIA Type IIA Strength Gains
    1-2 reps Very Low Low Low Excellent

    3-5 reps Very Low Low Decent to Good Excellent

    6-8 reps Very Low Good Excellent Good

    9-12 reps Low Excellent Very Good Good Within Rep R.

    13-15 reps Decent Very Good Decent to Good Endurance

    16-25 reps Very Good Diminishing Low Endurance

    25-50 reps Excellent Low Very Low Endurance
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    And here it is explained.

    It is generally accepted throughout the world that there are two different types of muscle fibers. Slow twitch (Type I) muscle and fast twitch (Type II) muscle fiber. From there, you can further categorize fast twitch muscle fiber into Type IIa and Type IIb

    Type I Muscle Fibers

    Type I muscle fibers have the slowest-contractile speed, the smallest cross-sectional area, the highest oxidative (aerobic) capacity, and the lowest glycolytic (anaerobic) capacity. They contract slowly and are able to hold a steady paced twitch for long durations without fatigue. Type I muscle fibers are predominately used in endurance activities. Long distance runners, swimmers, and cyclists mostly use Type I fibers.

    Type II Muscle Fibers

    Type IIb muscle fibers have the fastest-contractile speed, the largest cross-sectional area, the lowest oxidative capacity, and the highest glycolytic capacity. They are ideally suited for short fast bursts of power. These muscle fibers are used in such activities as sprinting, powerlifting, and bodybuilding. Type IIa muscle fibers are intermediate and their properties lie between type I and type IIb.

    How Type I & Type II Muscle Fibers Are Different

    Type I fibers are different than type IIb fibers for many reasons. You can think of them as opposites. Type I is for long endurance activities while type IIb is for short fast bursts. Type I fibers are highly oxidative and are not likely to hypertrophy as much. Type IIb fibers are highly gycolytic and tend to hypertrophy more than type I fibers. Type I fibers are also known as red fibers due to their abundant supply of blood. Type IIb fibers have little blood causing them to be white in appearance.

    How Your Body Recruits Muscle Fibers

    Even the small muscle groups in your body have over 100,000 muscle fibers. A motor neuron is what stimulates our muscles to contract. It carries impulses (messages) from our brain and spinal cord to our muscles. One motor neuron controls anywhere from 2-2,000 muscle fibers. A single motor neuron and the fibers it stimulates are called a motor unit. Each motor unit mainly contains muscles of its kind. Also, the motor unit fires with a frequency that is conducive to the fibers it stimulates. Simply put, a slow twitch motor neuron will cause the muscles in it to contract slowly while a fast twitch unit will fire quickly.

    The quicker it fires the more power it produces. If the activity is light, it will mainly stimulate type I muscle fibers. When it becomes too intense it will call upon type IIa muscle fibers. And finally, for the highest intensity movements, it will recruit the type IIb fibers. This is why type I fibers are called low threshold, and fast type IIb fibers are called high threshold. Low threshold because they are the first muscle fibers to be recruited and high threshold because they are only recruited under the most intense circumstances. Your body always activates its muscle fibers in this fashion.

    An Example Of How Your Muscle Fibers Are Recruited

    Say you were to help someone lift a heavy couch up a flight of ten stairs. You would use your hands as grips and let your legs do all the work. On the first step your legs will start to recruit type IIa fibers. By the 2nd or 3rd step your nervous system does not recruit more motor units. This being the case the first set of fibers rest and more type IIa fibers are recruited. Along with these, a number of type IIb fibers are called into play (to maintain fluent motion up the stairs).

    As your journey continues more type IIa and type IIb fibers are recruited until by the last step they have all come into play. Your muscle fibers weren't twitching at maximum speed until the end of the stairs when they neared failure. The faster a muscle fiber twitches the greater the force is. At the beginning, the fibers weren't forced to twitch at maximum frequency to overcome the weight, but at the end they had to produce as much force as possible to overcome the weight. This is how recruitment is designed to maintain a certain amount of force.

    Recruitment In Low Rep Sets

    Low repetition work (in the 1-5 rep range) provides an extremely unique adaptation. To overcome the weight, your body must recruit as many motor units as humanly possible. This will cause your nervous system to become more efficient at this process. Over time, you will learn to lift the heavier weight with all (or close to as possible) of your motor units in one rep. Powerlifters are brutally strong for this reason. They can basically make all the their motor units fire at once.

    Strength Gains Without Muscular Hypertrophy?

    Strength gains in the 1-5 rep range can take place without muscular hypertrophy. This doesn't mean that growth cannot occur at these junctions. It just means that growth is not the optimal method of adaptation in this zone. This is for two reasons. First, although more motor units are recruited at once, low repetition sets cannot recruit as many muscle fibers as in a higher repetition set.

    This is due to signaling problems occurring in the nervous system. These problems occur because the nervous system is asked to act extremely fast and furious and is taxed to its limit. Second, contractile proteins in a cell are responsible for muscular growth. These must be exposed to enough stress (which they aren't in low repetition sets) or they will not be damaged enough to overcompensate and increase in size.
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    Nice post Hunter.
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    Great post. I was just about to state that I don't feel you can group every muscle group in your body into the same category in terms of volume/frequency/intensity (I was stunned nobody has mentioned tempo at all here, considering how important it is). Muscle groups are comprised of different types of fibres and I think it is necessary to cater to that through different rep ranges, even within a workout. While I never personally dip below 6 on anything, I do go as high as 12 with tempo ranges from 3-6 seconds for any given lift.
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    Thanks Savage, Soldier....appreciate the props.

    Soldier, like you, I always vary my reps on a given exercise. I'll do higher reps lower weights, mid reps at mid weight, and lower reps at higher weights. I want to work all my muscle fibers as often as possible to encourage growth.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SoMdHunter
    Thanks Savage, Soldier....appreciate the props.

    Soldier, like you, I always vary my reps on a given exercise. I'll do higher reps lower weights, mid reps at mid weight, and lower reps at higher weights. I want to work all my muscle fibers as often as possible to encourage growth.
    Definitely, I think periodization and progressive overload are the most efficient ways for training in terms of mass. Obviously diet is the most important aspect.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mulletsoldier
    Definitely, I think periodization and progressive overload are the most efficient ways for training in terms of mass. Obviously diet is the most important aspect.
    Without a doubt! I can tell immediately if food intake has been too low for a given routine. The weights get heavy too early in my routine, and I know I won't be able to do what I want to accomplish that day.

    Food will make or break ya in the gym!
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    Quote Originally Posted by SoMdHunter
    I always vary my reps on a given exercise. I'll do higher reps lower weights, mid reps at mid weight, and lower reps at higher weights. I want to work all my muscle fibers as often as possible to encourage growth.
    Yup. Mix it up. Best results and keeps you from getting bored.
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    TS, SMD, do you guys vary your rep tempoes as I do? In terms of fibre difference?
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    I wouldn't take every set to failure mainly because of my CNS. When it comes down to it as some have said, everyones different. Things like progressive load, TUT techniques, and drop sets, all have their benefits. The key is to keep it fresh and keep your body guessing. Obviously nutrition is the other half of the puzzle.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mulletsoldier
    TS, SMD, do you guys vary your rep tempoes as I do? In terms of fibre difference?
    Yes. Not as much as I vary reps, but I try to mix up tempo as well. My "standard" tempo is explosive/fast concentric and 3-4 seconds eccentric. This is what I use out of habit when I'm not thinking about tempo. (And I virtually always use it on the first set of my first lift for a muscle group, since I use this first set to track my strength progress.) But sometimes I'll also do slower concentric or a really slow (8-10s) eccentric.

    I'm really not sure how different tempos affect different fibres. But I just assume mixing it up is best unless I learn otherwise.
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    I had assumed that muscle groups were comprised of different fibres, and each fibre type would respond most favourably to differing tempos. I usually stick with a 2:2, but go with 3:2 and 2:1 for Ecc:Con
  

  
 

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