Set yourself up to fail

If you read my blogs you will know how much I am against pushing to failure.…. MOST of the time. I do believe that pushing the body to a place outside of its comfort zone has its place, after all, in life we will find ourselves in that position every now and then, so it makes sense to have some exposure to it, but for the most part, I am all about building the body in a controlled, intelligent way.

The bodybuilder mentality for the average gym goer, in my opinion, is the wrong one but it is also probably the most common.

So lets look at two different ways of approaching a training set. For this example we will take the bench press as the exercise and 100kg as the weight. Both of our hypothetical trainees follow the same healthy diet, good sleep pattern etc.
They both have a true 10 rep max of 100kg, meaning they both fail when attempting to do an eleventh rep.

Trainee A: (traditional bodybuilding method)
Set 1. 10 reps = 1000kg volume lifted
rest 1.30
Set 2. 8 reps = 800kg volume lifted (after a true max effort getting a second set of 10 so soon won’t happen)
rest 1.30
Set 3. 6 reps = 600kg volume lifted (by the third set, he will be failing at around 6 reps)

Total reps 24 = 2400kg total volume lifted

He has pressed 2400kg but not only that, his Central Nervous System (CNS) is now completely smoked and if he does all exercises like this (common theme with a lot of people), it will be tired for quite some time and his following workouts will probably not be as  effective as they could have been.

>Trainee B: (CNS strength based approach)
Set 1. 3 reps = 300kg

rest 1.30

Set 2. 3 reps = 300kg
repeat for another 8 sets.
Total reps 30 = 3000kg total volume lifted.

So trainee B ends up pressing 600kg MORE than trainee A.
Not only that but as he never went near failure (he always stopped 7 reps before that point) his CNS has not been put into a state of stress. It is still heavy but as its only 3 reps his CNS accepts it as a safe, comfortable rep range and grants him the strength to complete it. He will be fresh enough to come in the next day and repeat a similar pattern (on different movements) without stressing the CNS.

Let’s say both these trainees bench twice a week.
Trainee A attempts the same protocol. MAYBE he gets an extra 1 rep on set 2 and 3. His total volume has now increased to 2600kg. Meanwhile trainee B isn’t worried so he repeats the first days workout for a total of 3000kg once more.
So the weeks total ends with trainee A pressing 5000kg, plus an exhausted CNS, plus a whole load of negative hormonal responses.
Trainee B has a total of 6000kg. 1000kg MORE and none of these side effects.

Week 2 trainee A manages 10. 9. 7. for a total of 2600kg. Trainee B adds one more rep to each of his 10 sets so is now completing 10 sets of 4. He already has exposed his CNS to the sets of 3 twice, so it isn’t going to worry too much about an extra rep. Now he has completed a total of 4000kg. They both complete this workout twice this week and on the second session, we will say trainee A managed 10. 10. 8, which means 2800kg for a total of 5400kg.

Trainee B again repeats the workout for another 4000kg, bringing his total for that week to 8000kg a difference of 2600kg but once again, has never pushed close to failure and his CNS is becoming more and more confident about the ability to handle these loads.

In week three trainee A manages 3 sets of 10 on day 1, 3000kg and then on day 2 decides to increase the load to 105kg. He manages (Im being generous here) 10, 8, 7 = 2675kg
total 5675kg
Trainee B adds another rep so presses a total of 5000kg both days for a total of 10,000kg pressed. Nearly DOUBLE of trainee A but again not going anywhere near failure.

Maybe the following week trainee B follows suit and increases his weight by 5kg but drops to 3 reps again for a total of 6,300kg that week. A naturally built in deload as although he has increased the weight on the bar, he has dropped his total poundage by quite a margin. Or maybe he stays at 100kg and just adds another rep to each set bringing the total volume lifted to 12,000kg but still he has never went near his 10 rep max and I can bet by this stage his 10rm is beyond 100kg.

My point being, trainee A is a representation of most guys that go to the gym. They want BIG muscles (chicks dig big muscles bro) and as bodybuilders have big muscles it makes sense to train like one, right?

WRONG! Bodybuilders train like bodybuilders because it is specific to their sport but it is also detrimental to the human body. Lack of mobility, muscle imbalances and joint damage are part and parcel of this game. Also bodybuilders can push their bodies a lot harder than the average guy because most are are usually on copious amount of steroids (this is not a statement of judgement, it is just stating a fact. Steroids are part of the sport).

Trainee B represents how most people SHOULD train. Training needs to be about improving the body. Increasing strength, improving mobility, dropping access body fat and leading to a better overall quality of health. By focusing on eating clean, training smart, moving more and getting at least eight hours sleep a night, then a great looking physique that is capable of what we ask of it becomes the byproduct of our effort.

Are there any benefits to training like a bodybuilder? Yes of course there are…. IF you are a bodybuilder, but If you aren’t, then don’t.


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We believe that everyone can become stronger and move freely through lifting weights, improving their mobility and unlocking new movement patterns. Barbells, kettlebells, bodyweight and movement form the basis of our methods. The purpose of our programming is to improve you, not destroy you. We believe in better: Move better, look better, feel better.

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