Lifting to failure and how to estimate reps from failure

Lifting To Failure

How Far From “Failure” Are You?

First, let’s define what lifting to failure means.

We should assume that lifting to failure means that you can no longer perform a rep with the same technique. This does not mean that you contort your body to achieve another rep. That is beyond failure because the intended musculature is no longer the one moving the weight.

Simply put: your first rep should look the exact same as your last rep, just a slower grind through the concentric (lifting) portion of the rep.

Estimating Reps From Failure

We get it – it can be tough to accurately estimate our “reps from failure,” and you might worry that you’re short-changing yourself.

At Paragon, we use a very effective model where we increase effort (adding load or reps) week to week. See our post about progressive overload for more info on this topic!

This approach is a “fail-safe” of sorts.

As you add weight or reps, you will get closer and closer to failure, and ultimately you will feel what “tough reps” feel like towards the end of the mesocycle. In the final week of each mesocycle (before deload week), we always take our sets to the point of technical failure. This provides you the tools to re-assess your effort and weight selection as you head into the subsequent mesocycle.

The Science

To provide a little general context around “failure,” I want to introduce the term “Maximal Concentric Intent.”

This means you are trying to lift every rep as fast as possible (control the descent… explode the ascent). This is performed without launching from the bottom, but to assertively try to move the weight quickly.

Think about the difference between flooring the gas pedal on your car versus pressing it confidently to pick up speed quickly. If you lift every rep by confidently pressing the gas pedal, you will eventually feel the concentric speed slow, even though you exert maximum effort. This first “slower” rep is usually 3-4 reps from failure (a great place to begin week 1 of the cycle).

This video by Jeff Nippard is extremely well done, and he demonstrates what failure looks like on a number of different common movements. You can see how the rep speed slows despite the hardest effort to move the weight.

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