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Push Ups and Failure

December 29, 2008

So, I did my first day. Took me all of six minutes. So there, you can do this with me! Hehe :).

Failure- training to failure. Good or not good? That’s todays question that is preying on my mind.

I’m going to go with sometimes good but not always good. Why? Cuz it’s a copout ;). Then I don’t really have to decide.

I’ve recently heard from various sources that going to failure can limit progress.

Maybe I should start with what “I know”. I know that most strength gains for a beginner start out with neural pathways. In real people terms, the nerves and the muscles get better at working together. Your nerves fire more efficiently, activating more nerve bundles in a muscle, which lead to triggering a better, stronger, more efficient muscular contraction with more muscle fibers. There are technical terms for all the nerve muscle junctions’n’stuff but I’d probably spell it wrong anyway.

Then, after your nerves and muscles finally decide they can work well together, and get happy together, the muscle then starts gaining strength (starts occurring while the nerves and muscles are getting friendly). So step one is nerves and muscles, step two is muscles. I do lots of run on sentences. Yes, I do :).

And step three? The stuff I don’t really know- Working to failure I have recently heard from a few different sources limits progress by decreasing/destroying/beating the crap out of/and making sad, the neural muscular pathway. To me, this makes sense, so I’m going to believe it. I guess if you can build something up, you should be able to tear it down by doing the opposite.

How does it break down the neural pathway? Well, in theory when the nerve is sending the signal for the muscle to contract and the muscle is not doing what the nerve says to do, then the pathway/signal is not able to do what it should. After repeated times of the nerve not being able to get the muscle to perform the activity the nerve signal becomes less efficient. In theory. This is what I recently read, if you’ve got a different opinion, please share. I like to learn, discuss, and debate. Though discussing and debating should lead to learning…

So, usually I work to failure and have not been seeing the gains I felt I should have (and have actually done worse on some things since starting again). I’m going to not work so frequently to failure. Not every set.

My new plan, leave enough “gas in the tank” to feel like I’d be able to complete one or two more reps when finishing a set. Work to failure on one set only per workout max. Sometimes not even one. And this is my new experiment.

No lab animals will be harmed during this experiment.

Happy Pushups everyone :).

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. ladlam permalink
    December 29, 2008 9:47 PM

    Hi, interesting topic.
    I think it depends a lot on your definition of failure. Personally, I think if you can no longer complete a perfect, full motion rep, then you’ve reached failure.
    Also, I think it depends on when you’re reaching failure. Reaching failure on every set is a lot different to reaching failure on your last rep of a particular exercise!

    • December 30, 2008 5:41 AM

      Yep, that’d be failure. On some of my 3×15, when I couldn’t complete the full 15 because I’d upped my weight, it would be failure on every set, or darn near every set. I think after some reading, that I was limiting my own progress by going to failure so frequently.

  2. robfitness permalink
    December 30, 2008 4:48 PM

    WOW!!! you really give us all something to think about in that post! I myself am beginning to be positive and not think of it as failure when you can’t do what you should be doing. Sometimes your body just won’t allow yourself to get were you want it to so you just have to listen to what your body tells you. I hope that makes sense?

    Now I thought I’d briefly tell you what a “brick” is and here it goes…

    Bricks refer to training on two disciplines during the same workout, one after the other with minimal or no interruption in between, just as you would do in a race. Usually when people talk about bricks they refer to a bike/run workout, but bricks could also refer to a swim/bike workout or to a run/bike workout (if you are training for a duathlon). So ean example would be you bike for say 10 miles and as soon as you get that done you start a 2-3 mile run. Once that’s done that’s your workout for the day.
    Now I am not for sure how my weight training will be incorporated into this but I don’t start the brick training till week 6 of my training for the triathlon.

    Well I am back at it now and trying my best to get to were I was before I slacked off. So now reason to send out the possy to look for me, I am Back and better than ever!

    • December 30, 2008 5:32 PM

      I don’t mean failure as a bad thing. When we do what we do, we’re going to get to the point here and there that we just can’t do one more rep. I don’t see it as bad exactly, but just possible that by attempting to do the rep to failure, the neural pathways could be decreasing in efficiency, which is not good. But I still don’t know how often working to failure is bad. I’ll definitely do more research :).

      Thanks for explaining the brick term! A triathalon sounds fun, and I’ve thought about them occasionally. One of these years when I get fully over my fear of riding my bike maybe :).

      See you soon over on your page!

  3. ladlam permalink
    January 1, 2009 2:26 AM

    I’d say training to failure on every rep would most likely be doing your progress some damage! You should try and pick a rep/weight combo so that your last rep is literally the last rep you can possibly do.
    And Rob, I often use brick style training for cardio (although I’ve never heard of the term!) but I don’t really see how you can incorporate it in to weight training without doing yourself any damage. I’ll be keeping an eye on your blog to see how you go though!

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