It’s important to approach your training with enough intensity to force your body to adapt and make you see results. However, going too hard may actually be slowing down your progress for both muscle and strength gains.
Most professionals tend to agree that training to absolute failure isn’t really worth the extra stress placed on the body, or the poor technique that starts creeping up on us as we approach our absolute max.
So where do we go from here? A lot of people tend to think in a binary way where if you aren’t training to failure, sub-maximal training must be the answer. While this is technically true, a lot of people take this idea and turn their training into just ‘going through the motions’. Training is supposed to be hard and it’s supposed to hurt, so reconciling the gap between training to failure and not training hard enough comes down to the intensity you bring to each set.
When faced with rep ranges, (e.g. 8 – 12 or 6 – 8), people tend to pick weights that satisfy the upper end of the range and then some. Instead, you should approach rep ranges with a weight that would make you fail at the upper end of that range, or at least within two reps.
So for example, in an 8 – 12 rep range you should pick a weight that has you struggling to reach 12, and pretty much failing at 13 or 14.
This is essential for when it comes time to progress in your program, how do you know when to make things harder and increase your weights? When you start hitting 12 reps in the range more easily! This is a clear sign that you can increase the weight, which will inevitably drop the amount of reps you can do from 12 back down to 8.
It’s similar when faced with a single number too, if the set just calls for just 6 reps or just 15 reps, you want to make sure that getting another two reps above these numbers would be possible, but a huge struggle.
When it’s an RM (Rep Max), things get a little bit different. For beginners, RMs are actually one of the most effective ways of writing programs, because it makes you push hard without failing. It says rep max but most beginners aren’t inherently aware of how hard going to absolute failure actually is, so instead, they do what we described above and go hard enough that they’re within a couple reps of failure at the RM, which turns out to be the sweet spot for intensity! That’s why we often use RM in our Group Training with those exercises that require especially high intensity.
For more trained lifters, RMs might not be as prudent, because these lifters will take it to absolute failure, which may result in poor technique or too much stress on the body if they aren’t recovering properly. But this depends on the individual, i.e. their sleep, diet and training experience.
On that note, going to failure isn’t completely bad, it just requires you to be experienced enough to make sure your form doesn’t suffer and you also need to have your sleep and diet, (recovery), on point.
Hopefully that cleared things up and you guys know exactly how hard you need to be training, no matter the sets and reps you’re looking at. If you have any questions about anything here then make sure to let us know, we’d be happy to help. Thanks for getting this far in the email, you’re a trooper of a reader! If you haven’t already started up with our Group Training and are interested in what we do, here is a link to see us in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2WbJq_XPhI