Training To Fail?

“1… 2… 3… 4… 5… ugh… 6… arrrrgh…7…aaaaaarrrrrghhh… 8.”

That probably isn’t an unfamiliar sound to most gym goers. The screams and moans of taking a set to all out failure may in theory cause the most muscle growth. You couldn’t have worked any harder right? Wrong.

Training to failure causes severe stress to the central nervous system (CNS). After a while, the CNS just can’t take all the strain, and you over train and lose muscle. The answer is quite simple really. Don’t train to failure. You think it will make your muscles that much bigger, squeezing out 1 or 2 more extremely hard reps? It wont. You would be better off stopping 1 rep shy of failure, and maybe completing another set. Maybe 2 or 3 more non failure sets.

The other main advantage to non failure training is that it enables you to train that same muscle more than once a week. Indeed, training the same muscle group 2-3x a week is optimal, as any muscle you train is fully recovered in as little as 36 hours, with the largest muscles taking around 48 hours. It is only the CNS stress that stops people being able to train each muscle twice a week.

So overall, your muscles are receiving a lot more stress, and your CNS is receiving less. That is the exact scenario you should be trying to achieve.

That said, I will now outline the possibilities for different splits, and then continue to cover periodized programs. Which are even more fun.

Twice a week training

The splits:

Upper
Lower

or

Chest shoulders back (torso)
Arms legs (limbs)

Each done 2x per week. The days I would advise are either:
Mon
Tues
Thurs
Fri

or
Mon
Wed
Thurs
sat

The volume of each workout will be reduced from what it would be if you were training a muscle once per week, but the total volume will be kept the same, or slightly higher.

Example Torso / Limbs split

Mon-Upper
Incline bench
Pullup (weighted if necessary)
Cable crossover
Cable row
Military press

Leg raise

Tue-Limbs
Squat
Leg press
SLDL
CGBP
BB curl
Calf press

Thurs-Torso
Pullup (weighted if necessary)
T bar row
Flat bench
Skull crushers
Arnold press
Side lateral raise
Crunch

Fri-Limbs
Deadlift
Leg curl
Front squat
Calf raise
Hammer curl
Tricep dips

All 3 sets of 6-8 reps.

Example Upper / Lower Body Split

Mon-Upper
Incline bench
Cable crossover
Military press
CGBP
T-Bar row
BB curl

Tues-Lower
Squat
Leg press
SLDL
Calf press
Leg raise

Thurs-Upper
Pullup (weighted if necessary)
BB row
Hammer curl
Flat bench
Skull crushers
Side lateral raise

Fri-Lower
Deadlift
Leg curl
Front squat
Calf raise
Crunch

All 3 sets of 6-8 reps.

Remember: DO NOT GO TO FAILURE stop 1 or 2 reps shy. Training to failure twice a week will overstress the CNS too much, and lead to overtraining.

3x per week training

These will consist of full body workouts. These workouts however, do not need to be the same. In fact, I would advise having at least 2 or even 3 different workouts and cycle between them throughout the week. This will help to prevent boredom.

I would perform the workouts either:
Mon
Wed
Fri

or
Tues
Thurs
Sat

This ensures you are rested well enough to perform the next workout. Again, overall volume should be kept the same as is you trained a muscle once a week.

Example full body workouts

Mon
Squat
SLDL
Calf raise
Incline bench
Military press
Pullup
Hammer curl

Wed
Front squat
Hamstring curl
Flat bench
Side laterals
CGBP
BB row
Crunch

Fri
Deadlift
Leg extension
Decline bench
Skullcrushers
Pulldown
BB curl
leg raise

all sets 3x6-8

There really are endless options for 3x per week training though. It would be possible to split it into 4 days, but only train each muscle three times. For those of you that cant stay out of the gym.

Mon
Squat
Cable crossover
Side laterals
Skullcrushers
BB row

Wed
SLDL
Pullup
BB curl
Leg raise

Thurs
Front squat
Seated calf raise
Flat bench
CGBP
Calf press

Sat
Leg press
Hamstring curl
Incline bench
Military press
Pulldown
Hammer curl

As previously stated: DO NOT GO TO FAILURE stop 1 or 2 reps shy. Training to failure 3x a week will overstress the CNS too much, and lead to overtraining.

Making things a little more exciting: Method 1

Conjugate splits

This method I would apply to the 2x per week splits. It entails splitting the workouts into 2 separate days, each with separate goals or rep ranges.

Example split

Mon - upper strength, 5-6sets of 3-4reps
Tues - lower hypertrophy, 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Thurs - upper hypertrophy 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Fri - lower strength, 5-6sets of 3-4reps

I would advise that on the hypertrophy days, you use one of the workouts listed above. And for strength days, stick to mostly compound lifts, and do multiple sets.

Example workouts

Mon
Upper strength
Bench
Military press
Pullup
BB row

Tues
Lower hypertrophy(choose from above)

Thurs
Upper hypertrophy(choose from above)
Lower strength
Squat
SLDL
Good morning
Calf press

All lifts are 6 sets of 3-4 reps.

This type of split will enable you to gain considerable strength, whilst not neglecting hypertrophy. Indeed, the extra strength you gain from the heavy workouts will enable you to lift more weight in the hypertrophy workouts and hence gain muscle even faster.

Making things a little more exciting Method 2:

Periodization

Periodization is the organisation of training into blocks. Each with a specific goal. The general idea of the methods I will advise is to significantly increase the difficulty of training over a short period, 3-4 weeks for example. Then take a step back, and allow your body to catch up. The easier weeks will give you the most hypertrophy, as your body will be adapting to the stimulus from the very tough weeks.

Option 1 Volume Loading

As it sounds like, this entails increasing the volume (more specifically the number of sets) that you train with.

I would advise starting with 3 sets per workout, and each workout, add a set.

The problem you are left with now, is how to know when to stop adding sets, and when to have an easier week. I have found the best way to do this is to go by how you feel. If you feel overly lethargic in your high set workouts, take a deload.

I assume this would happen between 7 and 9 sets per workout, depending on the person.

Here is a basic 4 week cycle, assuming you train a muscle 2x per week in an upper/lower split:

week 1: first upper/lower days 2 sets, 2nd days 3 sets
week 2: first upper/lower days 4 sets, 2nd days 5 sets
week 3: first upper/lower days 6 sets, 2nd days 7 sets
week 4: first upper/lower days 8 sets, 2nd days 8 sets
week 5, the deload. You will perform 1upper and 1 lower
workout, 2 sets per exercise.

Next to come is intensity loading...ill do this when I come back from work. Any questions so far?

Option 2 Intensity loading

Intensity refers to the distance one performs from their repetition maximum.

for example if you failed at 10 reps with 100lbs on bench press, your 10RM would be 100lbs. 70% effort would be 70lbs, 85% effort 85lbs etc.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about intensity loading is HST. Using full body workouts. I will not write anything about HST, but I will post a link to the website, where a detailed explanation can be found: www.hypertrophy-specific.com

A further description of HST can be found here: http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showt...threadid=280813

I have not seen much literature about twice per week training, and manipulating intensity, but in the future I will experiment with something along the lines of this:

All weeks have 2 upper/lower body workouts. The above listed workouts can be used. All 3 sets of 6-8 reps

week 1 all sets 1 rep shy of failure(90% of 8RM for example)
week 2 all sets to failure
week 3 all sets to failure + 2 forced reps/rest pause reps
week 4 all sets to failure, followed by a dropset of 60% of the weight you just used
week 5 deload, as with volume loading.

Option 3 Frequency Loading

Indicates training with the same volume in workouts, more frequently throughout the week.

For twice per week training: One may choose to increase the number of workouts to 6 per week (3 upper / 3 lower). There are however many options. I will list my favourite ideas below.

All 3 sets of 6-8 reps

week 1: 2 upper + 2 lower workouts M,Tu,Th,F
week 2: 3 upper + 2 lower workouts M,Tu,Th,F,Sa
week 3: 3 upper + 3 lower workouts M,Tu,W,Th,F,Sa
week 4: 3 upper + 4 lower workouts M,Tu,W,Th,F,Sa,Su

Week 5, and 6 if needed(as this will be very taxing) Deload

For a full body split, you may like to do something like this:

Week 1: 2 workouts
Week 2: 3 workouts
Week 3: 4 workouts
Week 4: 5 workouts

Week 5: Deload

Option 4 Density loading

Density refers to the amount of work one does in a specific time. Say for example you perform 15 sets of 6-8 reps in an hour; increasing density would mean doing 16, or 17 sets. This can be achieved by reducing th rest time between sets. And/or adding more sets. This is similar to volume loading, but not entirely the same.

Week 1: 75 secs between compounds, 60 secs between isolations
Week 2: 60 secs between compounds, 45 secs between isolations
Week 3: 60 secs between compounds, 45 secs between isolations, add 1 set ofeach exercise
Week 4: 45 secs between compounds, 30 secs between isolations, add another set of each exercise

Week 5: Deload

Further options

You'll have to be very careful with the length of your loading weeks in the next cycles I suggest, as you will be loading more than 1 variable at a time. Overreaching will occur very quickly, so regular deloads would be required.

Volume +Frequency Loading

For this I would advise a 4 week cycle, 3 weeks load, 1 week deload:

Week 1: 2x upper+2x lower workouts, 3 sets per workout
Weeks 2 and 3: Upper/lower/rest/repeat every other workout adding 1 set per exercise. It will look like:

3,3,4,4,5,5,6,6 (sets per exercise)

Week 4(and 5 if nessecary): Deload

Frequency + Intensity

Week 1: 2x upper 2x lower 3 sets per workout
Week 2: 2x upper 2x lower 3 sets per workout to failure
Week 3: upper/lower/upper/rest/lower/upper/lower 3 sets to failure + a dropset of 60% of the weight u used on the last set of each exercise

Week 4(and 5 if nessecary): Deload

Summary of periodization

You can load Volume, Frequency, Intensity and Density.

This is not an exhaustive list though. It is possible to load more than 1 variable at once, 2 or 3 can all be used concurrently. The only difference being the length of the loading phase must be shorter, and the deload possibly longer.

Conjugate Periodization

This is a way to periodize your conjugate split. Most of my information was obtained by reading the periodization for bodybuilders articles, written by Lyle Mcdonald.

There are basically 4 different rep ranges.
1-4reps
4-6reps
7-12 reps
12-20reps

There are 3 types of muscle fibre, Type I and types IIa and IIb. The type II fibres are the largest, and hence Bodybuilders should focus their efforts on enhancing them.

Low rep training(1-4) is for strength, and Myofibrilar hypertrophy, hypertrophy that is, of the actual muscle fibre . this accounts for roughly 80% of the actual muscle. his type of training activates the type IIb fibres mainly, with some action from the type IIa.

the 4-6 rep range also emphasises Myofibrilar hypertrophy to a large extent, but also contributes to Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, this being the growth of everything else.(mitochondrion number, water levels etc) this contributes the other 20% of the muscle.

7-12 reps emphasises sarcoplasmic growth, with little myofibrilar growth.

30-40reps is for increased capillerisation of the muscle, therefore allowing more blood, and therefore nutrients to themuscle.

Thats enough of all this science mumbo jumbo, lets talk about how you can implement this into your training.

Firstly, you must determine your goals. Choose 1 or 2 rep ranges which you really want to improve on. These ranges will be worked heavily, and the others will be worked at maintenance.

Take for example a bodybuilder, wishing to improve strength mainly. A good lower body split could be:

Day 1
Squat 7 sets of 1-3 reps
Front squat 3 sets of 4-6 reps
Leg extension 2 sets of 10-12 reps
SLDL 2 sets of 7-12
Leg curl 1 set of 10-12
Calf raise 2 sets of 7-12

Day 2
Bench 7 sets of 1-3
Incline bench 3 sets of 4-6
Military press 3 sets of 6-8
Pulldowns 2 sets of 8-12
BB row 2 sets of 8-12
Bicep curls 1 set of 12-20

Day 3
Pullup 7 sets of 1-3
1 arm DB row 3 sets of 4-6
Chest dips 2 sets of 6-8
Side laterals 3 sets of 8-12
CGBP 3 sets of 8-12
Tri pushdowns 1 set of 12-20

Day 4
Deadlift 7 sets of 1-3 reps
Ham curl 3 sets of 4-6
Leg press 2 sets of 7-12
Seated leg curl 1 set of 12-20
seated calf raise 2 sets of 4-6
Standing calf raise 2 sets of 10-12

After a while, you may feel happy with your strength gains, and wish to concentrate on more sarcoplasmic growth, whilst maintaining strength. A good split would be:

Sarcoplasmic Emphasis

Monday
Pullup 2 sets of 2-3
Incline bench 2 sets of 4-6
DB bench 4 sets of 8-12
Cable crossover 2 sets of 12-20
Side laterals 2 sets of 12-20
Close grip bench 2 sets of 10-12
DB curl 2 sets of 10-12
BB curl 1 set of 12-20
Forearm curl 1 set of 12-20

Wednesday
Squat 2 sets of 2-3
Front squat 2 sets of 4-6
Leg press 4 sets of 10-12
SLDL 3 sets of 10-12
Leg curl 1 set of 12-20
Calf raise (standing) 1 set of 4-6, 3 sets of 10-12
Seated calf raise 1 set of 12-20

Thursday
Bench press 2 sets of 2-3
Military press 2 sets of 4-6
1 arm rows 3 sets of 6-8
Pulldown 3 sets of 8-12
Skulls 3 sets of 10-12
Pushdowns 1 set of 12-20
Hammer curl 3 sets of 8-12

Saturday
Deadlift 2 sets of 2-3
Front squat 2 sets of 7-12
Leg extensions 2 sets of 10-12
SLDL 2 sets of 4-6 10-12
Leg curl 2 sets of 10-12, 1 set of 12-20
Calf raise (standing) 2 sets of 2-3 , 2 sets of 10-12
Seated calf raise 1 set of 10-12, 1 set of 12-2

Here is a list of training/maintaing loads to go by:

rep range....training load...maintaining load
1-3..............6-10 sets........2-3 sets
4-6..............4-8 sets..........1-2 sets
7-12............3-6 sets..........1-2 sets
12-20..........1-2 sets..........1 set

These are not set in stone, they can be manipulated. Some may gain from less of a particular range. Some may need more volume. You will have to experiment to see what works best for you.

For more information on conjugate splits with strength and hypertrophy lifts on the same day, go to: www.mindandmuscle.net

That about sums up what uin my opinion are the best ways to train. I would advise a beginner to start off with the basic twice or thrice a week slit for 6-8 weeks before trying one of the more complicated splits. For the more advanced trainer, you may like to do the same but feel free to jump straight into the more complex periodized routines straight away.

meathead1987@hotmail.com

About the Author

Job Role Sports Nutritionist and Social Media Coordinator Qualifications Bsc Sport and Exercise Science Steph has a competitive athletic background which spans 19 years. As a child she performed with the English Youth Ballet and had performed on the West End stage by the age of 10. Her enthusiasm for sport and fitness continued to grow as she did, encouraging her to learn more about nutrition and training. She began using her knowledge and personal experience to help others when she began coaching at the age of 16. From here, she went on to study Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex during which time she also received the Most Promising Newcomer Award from her University to mark her outstanding contribution to sport. During her first year of study she was introduced to partner stunt acrobatics and artistic gymnastics. After one year of dedicating herself to a lifestyle revolving around her sport, she was training with the best team in the UK who are currently ranked fifth in the world. Steph has worked in both the private and public sector coaching children and adults from grassroot to elite level as well as providing them with cutting edge advice on how to reach their goals. Steph has received awards for her choreography and has competed nationally and internationally meaning that she can back up her scientific knowledge with a wealth of experience. As our resident Sports Nutritionist, Steph is here to provide the most current and evidence based fitness, health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
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