People often talk about going to muscle failure. It is mentioned in a lot of training articles and it used as a benchmark of sorts when talking about training. But what exactly is it, how does it truly relate to training and growth, and what part does intensity play in all of this?
You have questions and we have answers!
All about Muscle Failure
Muscle failure occurs when a muscle can no longer contract. That is a pretty simple idea. Generally when you work to muscle failure that means the muscle has ran out of gas and can no longer move the weight. This usually means that muscle fibers have been sufficiently taxed to create growth. But that is only true if you have reached absolute muscle failure.
Did you try as hard as possible for that last rep or did you give up early? Could you have pushed any hard?
As people work out for many years the idea of muscle failure becomes more important because reaching that absolute point becomes more critical for muscle growth and strength increase. As your body become stronger the muscles naturally become more difficult to stress. So it becomes vital to move closer and closer to that point of absolute failure.
Most people have hit it at some point whether at the gym or out in the world. It is like when you are moving boxes all day because you have to and push yourself longer and harder than ever before and realize hours later that you simply cannot lift your arms anymore; absolute muscle failure.
Intensity and Muscle Failure
So what do you do in the gym to get to that absolute point of failure? Many people rely on using ‘intensity techniques’ to help the muscles work longer. Technically speaking without doing something different you will never reach absolute failure.
Let’s say you are doing Leg Extensions with 150 pounds. You do 10 reps and cannot lift the weight for another single rep with that weight. But is your muscle truly exhausted? No, because you could lower the weight and lift more or even rest a few seconds and grind out another rep or two. That means there are still muscle fibers to be engaged!
So to get to the next level of exhaustion you need to use techniques like assisted reps, forced reps, negatives, drop sets, and rest-pause reps. It is only by going to this new level of exhaustion that you will be able to stress the muscles to the point of growth.
Word of Warning
Going to this next level is not for beginners or sometimes even intermediate lifters. If you can simply go to natural failure (pushing to the true maximum without any help) and you are sore the next day from stressing muscle fibers then you have no reason to push it any further. Your body hasn’t built up a level of resistance yet so there is no need. Trying to push even harder would actually be detrimental because it would over-stress your muscles beyond the normal level of recovery.