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Lifting to Failure or Progressive Overload?

An age old question.... train to failure or leave a little in the tank. The answer can be both.....to an extent. Our goal is the lift as much as possible during each workout. Then to increase that overload from week to week, month to month. 


The number one factor in increasing muscle strength and size it progressive overload; or increasing your volume and/or intensity. The key thing to remember is training to failure is a form of progressive overload. However, if you train to failure you can actually decrease the amount of volume you are able to perform.  


Let me explain; if I perform an exercise for 3 sets of 10 and I pick a weight that allows me to work hard yet complete every rep I have done 30 total reps. Now if I perform the same exercise and select a weight where I fail at 10 reps. my 2nd and 3rd sets will suffer. Maybe I only get 7 reps on my 2nd set and 5 or 6 reps on my third set. The means I have a total volume of 22 or 23 reps. Obviously 22 or 23 is less than 30 and if our goal is to is to lift as much as possible in each workout, then why are we training to failure so early?


So where does training to failure come into play? The answer is at the end. A great time to use training to failure is on your last set. So if I am performing Bench Press and I select 135LBS for my sets of 10, I would perform my first two sets at 135LBS for 10 reps. Then the only thing different in my third set would be I would Bench Press 135LBS for as many reps as possible as long as its more then 10 reps.

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