Is Training to Failure the Fast-Track to Amazing Results? Or Is it the Best Way to Get Injured?
Let's get right to the point: Training to Failure (Or AMRAP Sets- "As Many Reps As Possible") are hands down the best and most efficient way to drive progress. And I promise you won't get injured if you're using good form.
I want to tell you: 1) Why AMRAP Sets Work So Well 2) How to Do a TRUE AMRAP Set 3) A Major Problem With AMRAP Sets and the Solution 4) One Last Benefit of Training to Failure
WHY AMRAP Sets Work So Well
By doing a true AMRAP set, you're training at or at least very close to failure. (Training to failure is when you take a set to the point where, despite giving your best effort, you can't move the weight another inch.) Training to failure means you're literally pushing your body to the limit of it's ability.
This is a HUGE stressor to the body. And stress leads to change.
Your body realizes, "Oh crap! I can't do this. I need to get better." And so it does. You build muscle, strength, and tone up much faster.
Training HARD on each set will speed up your progress faster than anything else you can do.
The problem I've seen is a lot of people have a whole lot of reps left before they hit failure. Despite how they feel. Which leads me to point #2:
How to Do a TRUE AMRAP Set
Feelings lie to you. We can't always listen to them. Especially when you're in uncharted territory in the gym.
We need to treat this like a science. We need to be objective.
Well, 1 of 2 things happen when we let our emotions cloud our judgment.
1) I see people quit a set because they started getting tired. But they literally could have done 5-10 more reps. I would know after watching hundreds and maybe thousands of sets.
Think about that. If you do 8 reps, but could do 8 more reps...you only did HALF of what you're capable of. That's insane!!
2) I see people attempt weights that are WAY too heavy. I know they're going to miss the rep before they even start the set.
So what's the key to a successful AMRAP set?
Ditch the emotions, choose a reasonably heavy weight for you, put some chalk on your hands, get someone to spot you, and get aggressive!!
I want you to literally take the set as far as you can. But do so under the supervision of a trainer. A trainer is going to be able to tell you if you can or can't do more. They'll push you to do more or they'll "stop your set early" if we need to.
Listen to your trainer, not your brain.
Note: Especially listen to your trainer on Squats and Deadlifts. I tend to be a little more conservative with these lifts until you get very comfortable with taking them close to failure.
A Major Problem With AMRAP Sets and the Solution
One problem with AMRAP sets is training to failure can feel really arbitrary. You don't have a rep goal to aim for. And without a goal the mind will often tell us our body can't go on even though it really can.
That's why we track our AMRAP sets in our notebooks. After you've done one AMRAP set on every main lift, you'll have a goal to beat. If you did 10 reps last time, aim for 11. Aim higher if you can! But now you know what you have to beat.
One Last Benefit of Training to Failure
Training to failure shows you what you're truly capable of. And it lets you learn how hard you're actually training. How hard a set was isn't determined by how you FEEL afterwards. It's determined by how many reps you have left in the tank.
When you know what it's like to go to failure, you'll have a better idea of what it looks like to leave 1, 2, or 3 reps in the tank. That's good to know because we don't ALWAYS want to train to failure. (That's another topic for another day.) An unexperienced lifter won't have the slightest idea of how many reps they have in the tank.
In Summary, Train to Failure if you want to get the most out of your time in the gym!