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First things first, let’s first discuss what truly is failure. To get a clear understanding, picture yourself doing a chest press, you get 8 reps out and with the bar still in your hands, your gym partner and supposed friend literally puts a gun to your head, telling you if you don’t get another 5 reps your dead. Your thinking your done for, you push out 3 more reps, now on to forth rep, your fighting it and crawling underneath you manage to lock the elbow out at the top but now your finished, you pause at the top, take a big breath and lower the bar fast bouncing it off your chest, you get half way up elbow wriggling all over the place and the weight starts to slow down and your fighting the lockout, lifting the shoulders wriggling underneath it as you try to lock out. You gym partner starting to squeeze the trigger, you continue to grind and grind but the weight just won’t move that final inch. Your entire life starts to flash before your eyes as the realisation that will never set foot in a gym again, still grinding your gym partner clenches the trigger harder, your all out of energy and you can’t push any more and the weight comes straight down onto your chest. Lying there underneath the barbell you beg for forgiveness, your gym partner stood over with the gun still in his hands, he’s smirking, he said don’t worry I’m not going to kill you I just wanted to see you take your set to failure. So hopefully now I think that clears that up, failure is if somebody held a gun to your head you couldn’t get another rep.

Now when it comes to programming for a clear guide for relative intensity we use whats called Rate of Perceived exertion or RPE, so an RPE 10 would be failure meaning you’ve got no reps left in the tank. So RPE 8 would mean 2 reps left in the tank and so on right down to RPE 1 which would mean you have 10 reps left in the tank this would be a very easy set. Occasionally you may even go to RPE 11 OR 12 which would mean having a partner spot you for 1 or 2 reps after you’ve completed your set. Understanding this will make the rest of the discussion a lot easier.

It’s very well backed up by science now that the higher the RPE the more micro fibrillar damage will occur thus more growth will occur. So taking a set to RPE 10 will in short be the best for gains or even doing spotted reps at the end of your set will be even more effective for growth. But before you get carried away and think that now when your in the gym doing every set to complete failure is the correct approach. Just be patient because there is a punchline here. When we take any set to RPE 10 or especially beyond of course it has a greater intensity and will usually create a larger stimulus but as result we have to recover much longer. Not only that but it normally effects your total weekly volume which is really the most important thing when it come to hypertrophy(gains). So if you go so hard in your session you won’t be able to train that muscle group again for whole week so total weekly volume will be small.

Let me give you an example:

Person 1 : Mr I bring every set to failure.

Monday they train chest they do:

Flat bench at 100kg for 4 sets of 10 all at RPE 10

That would mean their total volume for the chest would be 4000kg.(4x10x100) it goes with out saying there would of been a bunch of other stuff they got done but for simplicity just think of it as that was all their chest work done.

Person 2 : Train most sets at around RPE 7-9

Monday they train chest they do:

Flat on bench at 100kg for 4 sets 8 reps at an RPE 8

They do the same on Thursday

Flat on bench at 100kg for 4 sets 8 reps at an RPE 8

Person 2 total volume is 6400kg (4x8x100) + (4x8x100)

Person 2 archived a much greater volume because he wasn’t so fatigued and rested enough to be able to train chest again twice.

Now it’s worth saying that the likely hood of person one completing 4 sets of 10 at RPE 10 would be very slim. If you take a set to complete failure usually the next few sets are compromised too, so not only will your total weekly volume be lower but so will that total sessions volume be lower. And your ability to get good quality sets within the session will be lost.

So the magic RPE isn’t actually failure(RPE 10) but its really around RPE 8 if there were such thing. So does failure have its place or should we never go to failure then? Failure absolutely has its place. Applied correctly its a fantastic tool. The simple fact that in order improve overload absolutely has to occur. Overload meaning to do more than you previously done before, where hypertrophy concerned it essentially means lifting more weight through more reps over time. Think of it like this, If you can bench 80 for 10 reps what do you think your chest would look like if you could bench 100kg 10 reps. Would it look bigger? IF your trying to improve each week it would be great to say that you can always be at an RPE 8 consistently and numbers will keep climbing but the likely hood of this happening are very slim. So RPE 9 and 10’s are always going to happen on your quest to be better. To follow on from that you will need to do sessions that are harder than what you are usually capable of. We call this functionally over reaching. Where you purposely raise the intensity of a session or even a whole week to try get your body to adjust to do be able to do more.

Finally more on the specific of how you actually apply this. Well think on average through out your program you want to be around an RPE 8. This really only generally applies to the bigger tougher exercises known as compound exercisers like squats, chest press, rows, deadlifts. These exercises are much more over loading than say bicep curls, lateral raises and reverse flys, therefore compound exercise cause much more stress needing much more recovery. So in order to increase the frequency, they need to be done at varying intensities. Always doing maximal intensity will make it very difficult to recover between sessions. Furthermore will also make it harder to make session more overloading and harder to progress. The ultimate goal you trying to aim for, is being able to train as intense as possible as often as possible but also being able to recover too.

Thanks again for listening/ reading. Please like if you enjoyed today blog.

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