Archive for the ‘bodybuilding’ Category

Training to Failure

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

One of the questions that I get asked a fair bit is about the concept of training to failure in bodybuilding, kettlebell training and strngth and conditioning.

The other day on one of the forums I post on the following question came up.

It’s always said not to train to failure. What I’m wondering is why?

I’ve done it a little lately to vary it up, and while it really smashes me I at least feel some progress. Learnt the hard way though to do it close to bed time, cause if I go to failure (or beyond with lowered weight) a few times with small break in between I’m absolutely wrecked till I sleep a while.

After answering the question I thought i might as well pu tthe answer up here because i’m sure other people would have the same question!

So here is what I wrote…

This is a fairly complicated subject and depending on who you talk to you’ll get lots of different opinions.

I’ll try to simplify things to the three most common scenarios.

1. Muscle mass – Training to failure is an easy way to ensure progress when trying to build muscle.

Basically a fairly high volume of work with moderately heavy weights leads to a break down in muscle fibres and the bodies response is to build more muscle to compensate.

Due to some quirks of physiology though not all the muscle is contractile fibre (the bit that lifts stuff) so you can get bigger muscles but you aren’t necessarily as strong as you look. You still get stronger but just not the same way that pure strength athletes do.

Bodybuilders who train to failure in the 8 – 12rep range are in the muscle building zone and will often experience delayed onset muscle soreness.

2. Strength and power – strength is more neurological than most people think. When aiming to develop maximal strength and power you need to lift as heavy as possible but not necessarily to the point of failure.

By avoiding failure you recover more quickly and therefore can train more often. Like all skills the more often you practice the better you get.

This is why olympic lifters favour low reps (1-5 and mostly 1-3) and often twice daily training. They never train to failure in multi rep sets and only really “fail” during one rep max attempts when the weight is too high to lift.

Olympic lifters still get DOMS sometimes and initially they often build a lot of muscle mass but then tend to plateau when they get to the body weight they want to compete at.

3. Muscular endurance –
When the goal is high rep local muscular endurance (20+reps) for things like pushups you can train effectively either with multiple sets of sub maximal numbers or you can hammer away at training to failure. Either will work for a while and then it’s probably best to switch.

During long sets or circuits you end up with different types of failure if you push to the limit. You can experience metabolic failure where the muscles don;t have enough energy to contract or a build up in acid levels is inhibiting contraction. When this happens you’ll stop because you are out of breath basically. You can also get the same type of failure as doing bodybuilding type training whereby you might have the energy to do the reps but you’ve run out of nueromuscular juice.

At the end of the day you need to overload the muscles and your energy systems and try to progress every few sessions, once something stops working switch to a slightly different plan and start again!

Pumping Iron

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Yep, thats right, the Classic movie about Arnolds 1975 quest to win a 6th Mr Olympia.

I was watching it last night while I was doing some work and even though I’m not big on bodybuilding as a “sport” or even on training just for looks I have to say it’s a pretty good movie for a few reasons.

1. It shows what bodybuilders looked like before the ridiculaous steroid freaks of the current era looked like. Was there steroid use in mid 70’s bodybuilding, undoubtably but nothing like what you see now! The guys in Pumping Iron are big, muscular and lean but none of them look like they’ve dropped out of an Alien spaceship. These days bodybuilders present a completely unrealistic picture of what you can achieve in the gym, mostly because the magazines refuse to admit that these guys are all juiced up to the eyeballs! Kind of like airbrushed female models modern probodybuilders set unachieveable goals for guys and make everyone wonder why they can’t be 110kg of ripped to shreds muscle!

2. The strength training in pumping iron is pretty basic. Over and over you see guys benching, rowing, squatting (deep squats too), pressing overhead and deadlifting. There are few fancy machines around. Big basic training like this should never have gone out of fashion!

3. In places Pumping Iron is just damn funny. Listening to a young Arnold talking about sex, commitment and playing mind games with other lifters is very interesting. It’s no wonder the guy has had three very successful careers in bodybuilding, acting and politics. Love him or hate him the guys got ambition and balls.

I believe that there is a new edition of Pumping Iron out on DVD soon so I suggest getting together with some fellow muscleheads and watching it for a little motivation!