Jacked Athlete – Avoid Failure in Training

Gain copious amounts of muscle – train to failure or not?

Simultaneously add inches to your vertical jump – train to failure or not?

A recent study by Pareja-Blanco et al. looked into this.

Methods

10 experienced males completed a 20-week study where they were separated into 10 different set/rep configurations for the bench press and squat exercise.

The configurations went as follows: 12(12), 10(10), 8(8), 6(6), 4(4), 6(12), 5(10), 4(8), 3(6), and 2(4) where the first number represented the reps performed and the second number represented the predicted possible number of reps.  Half of the configurations were to failure and half were not to failure. 

Subjects completed 3 sets of the exercises at their designated configuration.

24- and 48-hours after training, muscle function was determined (countermovement jump and velocity measures) as well as a biochemical plasma profile (testosterone, cortisol, creatine kinase etc.)

Findings

  • The protocols that went to failure caused greater and longer declines in explosive performance (vertical jump and lifting velocity)
    • Higher repetitions to failure made this worse (6-12 reps per set)
  • A similar finding was found with creatine kinase (a marker of muscle damage).  Training to failure and training high repetition to failure caused the largest creatine kinase elevations.

From the researchers:

“In conclusion, resistance exercise to failure resulted in greater fatigue accumulation and slower rates of neuromuscular recovery, as well as higher hormonal responses and greater muscle damage, especially when the maximal number of repetitions in the set was high.”

Takeaways

For most of you, this should seem pretty obvious.  Training to failure brings about negative consequences for explosive jump performance.  If you’re training to increase vertical jump and you’re also training to failure, stop doing that.  It won’t work.

But what does this mean for athletes interested in gaining muscle?  Is it possible to do both at once?

In my experience, yes.  Muscle hypertrophy can be accomplished even if you’re staying far away from failure (as long as weekly volume is high).

Say in your typical hypertrophy plan you are to perform 4 sets of 10 repetitions at 65% 1RM.  This gives you a high volume and could approach failure.  In order to stay away from failure, simply perform 8 sets of 5 repetitions at 65% 1RM.  There will be minimal neuromuscular recovery issues with this set/rep scheme and volume will be the same as a normal hypertrophy plan.

Get juicy muscles while improving vertical jump.  Check out Hypertrophy Cluster Protocol for a full plan where muscle mass and explosive performance can be improved simultaneously.

Cheers, mate.

Bonus

  • This study was with the bench press and squat.  I don’t think you have to worry about avoiding failure on something like a biceps curl or delt lateral raise.  Have away with failing for isolation movements.
  • High fatigue from failure training can sometimes work well for hypertrophy gains. But it almost never works for explosive performance gains.
  • If you’re interested in purely hypertrophy, it’s probably better to avoid failure anyways.  According to this study, fatigue markers were still high at 48-hours post training.  In order to accumulate enough volume throughout a week, leftover fatigue from a workout two days prior is not a good situation.


REFERENCES

Pareja-Blanco, F., Rodríguez-Rosell, D., Aagaard, P., Sánchez-Medina, L., Ribas-Serna, J., Mora-Custodio, R., Otero-Esquina, C., Yáñez-García, J. M., & González-Badillo, J. J. (2018). Time course of recovery from resistance exercise with different set configurations.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002756.