How to Master Your Lifts to Maximize Gains?
Muscle growth is intricately linked to the execution of each repetition. Learning to optimize rep performance is pivotal for maximum muscle expansion.
There's a diversity in training volumes primarily driven by the intensity or the effort exerted in sets. A crucial question emerges: should sets be driven to the extreme, or would it be better to halt just before hitting the exhaustion point?
Scientific research needs to clearly define the ideal frequency of pushing sets to failure to achieve maximum growth. Despite this, it is undeniable that intense effort is a necessity during training, significantly to level up from the beginner stage.
This does not suggest that every set needs to be driven to the point of failure. In turn, with high-repetition training (over 15 reps), hypertrophy may decrease when loads exceed 60% of 1RM and aren't taken to failure. Continuous pushing of sets to total exhaustion may lead to overtraining and a consequent decrease in overall volume, potentially stunting growth. Generally, it's recommended to stop one to two reps short of failure in most compound exercises. Isolation exercises, however, can be pushed to failure more frequently as they don't pose the same risk of fatigue build-up. That said, the practice of pushing to failure should typically be saved for the final set of any exercise.
The Quadrants of Failure
- Intent Failure: This occurs when the focus is lost or when the voluntary effort exerted is not enough to lift the load despite the capability to do so. This may happen at any point during the set but commonly appears in one of three situations: when the exercise becomes uncomfortable, when high reps with light loads become boring, or when the programmed rep count is met but there are still a few reps left.
- Tension Failure: This happens when the connection between the mind and muscle is lost; when the muscle doesn't seem to be working or contracting maximally. This typically implies that the lifter compensates by using other muscles or adjusting their technique to squeeze in more reps.
- Technical Failure: This is particularly relevant to multi-joint free-weight movements. It occurs when a significant technical breakdown or movement compensation occurs to keep the weight moving from one point to another.
- Movement (True) Failure: This refers to the inability to execute another rep despite maximum effort, maintaining a solid mind-muscle connection, and ensuring proper technique.
The Double-Edged Sword of True Movement Failure
- It guarantees maximum effort from a set.
- Simplifies effort-level evaluation.
- For some, it can act as a motivator.
- It can yield similar hypertrophy results with fewer sets.
- It might lead to executing several ineffective reps that add to fatigue but contribute little to muscle stimulation.
- Increases the injury risk, especially in multi-joint free-weight movements.
- Causes a higher degree of central fatigue due to the increased need for a stronger excitatory neural drive, higher afferent feedback, and asynchronous/inefficient fiber recruitment/firing.
- Causes more muscle damage without extra protein synthesis stimulation.
- It can negatively affect subsequent sets and exercises, lowering the overall workout quality.
To sum up, the journey to hypertrophy maximization requires a balanced mix of repetition performance, set intensity, and understanding the different types of failure. Remember to pay attention to your body, maintain consistency, and adjust your techniques as you progress. Muscle growth isn't an overnight miracle; it's a continuous and gradual process.