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Training for muscle growth (otherwise known as Hypertrophy) is the goal of most gym goers – even if they don’t know it is.
When someone says they just want to get toned, they probably don’t realise that this requires muscle growth, even if it is only a small amount.
But how best to do it? A lot of bodybuilders use very high volume and train to failure on countless sets for each muscle.
Is this the best way to do things? In this article we will assess whether this is the most effective way to train, and help you decide when to use it, and when not to.
How to train to failure?
There are actually many different ways to train to failure, and your typical pro bodybuilder will utilise many of them.
You can use drop sets, which is where you perform as many reps as you can at a heavy weight, and then lower the weight by 50% and perform a second set. Keeping between set rest to an absolute minimum.
Then there are triple drop sets which are essentially the same thing but with an extra drop in weight.
You also have back off sets, this is where you perform 3-4 sets (or whatever you usually do) or an exercise with proper 3 minute rest periods. Then after the last set you have a further 3 minute rest, before performing one last set at 50% but this time to failure.
This is different to a drop set where you would go straight into the lower weight set. Back off sets are a great way to build strength, hypertrophy and also muscular endurance.
Another way to train to failure is rest pause sets, this is where you pick a weight that you can comfortably lift for 10 reps (or whatever rep range you are currently following).
Then you perform as many reps as you can (while still saving something in the tank for later) before racking the weight again. Rest for 20 seconds and then un-rack the weight and perform as many reps as you can again. Repeat this for a third time and rest.
You can turn this into a drop set by performing the three sets as usual with one weight, and then instead of stopping you can lower the weight and perform a subsequent three sets.
But if you don’t want to try anything complicated you can just perform three sets to failure, nothing else, just pick an exercise, pick a weight, and lift that weight until you can longer perform another rep. Then rest before restarting.
Should you train to failure?
Here’s something about professional bodybuilders that you should know, they all take steroids, and growth hormone, and insulin, they also use Synthol to make their muscles look more rounded.
They are not “natural” and if you are not doing everything the same as them, then you probably shouldn’t be training like them either.
If you have recovered from this bombshell then we can look into why that is.
We all produce a certain amount of testosterone naturally and there is an upper limit as to how much that is. It is different for different people, with some people having naturally higher levels.
They are the lucky ones and can build muscle easier and become stronger than someone with naturally lower testosterone levels.
The more testosterone you have the more protein synthesis can occur, meaning that you can get bigger gains after a day’s training.
Because bodybuilders are injecting themselves with ridiculously high levels of testosterone their upper limit smashes right past the upper limit. Which means that they can train more in a day and get more muscle damage – which leads to bigger muscles.
The growth hormone will also help them adapt to this form of training, and will also help them to recover faster and more effectively. Because of these advantages it makes sense for them to train to failure because why not? However much they train they can still build muscle.
If someone who wasn’t taking these drugs tried to train too hard they would hit their threshold fast and anything afterwards would just increase cortisol. Leading to muscle loss, yes it is possible to train so hard that you lose muscle.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t use training to failure? No. Chances are that most people reading this aren’t anywhere near hitting their daily threshold, so adding in the occasional set to failure is a great idea.
But 1) You need to be responsible with this training technique, too much can be harmful, and 2) Don’t expect it to yield similar results, you will get bigger muscles but not compared to an enhanced bodybuilder.
If you use a drop set, or other form of training to failure, make sure that you take a lot of protein, get a lot of sleep, and have a day’s rest if needed.