Strength Assessment: Self-Testing
The final week of the cycle is used as a strength assessment “self-test” of sorts to, so we definitely want to push close to failure.
Anyone who has taken a set of squats or RDLs within a rep or two of failure can testify that it is an extremely daunting and challenging set!
Through the process of pushing ourselves harder and harder from week to week, we want to ensure that this final week before deload is the most challenging week. Self-testing with a strength assessment can identify if you pushed yourself close to failure (or not).
If you added a few lbs or 1-2 reps from the prior week, then you can confidently say you were pretty close to nailing the progression week to week.
If you were able to add many lbs or reps from the prior week, you can confidently say that you probably sandbagged it a little the prior weeks.
Even if you’re in the latter group, it’s all good, because you now have the proof that you’re stronger and more capable than you thought previously. You can use this knowledge in the next block to push yourself a little harder from the beginning!
Wondering what training to failure means? This post will break it down for you! We must be cognizant of the way various movements are impacted by “failure.”
Throughout the training phase of a cycle, we increase weight and/or reps week to week to meet the demand of “getting closer to failure.” We don’t want to actually go to the point of failing something like a squat or an RDL.
Training to ‘Failure’ As A Spectrum
The failure spectrum can be ambiguous for a large compound movement like a squat.
- First, you might fail to maintain the exact same position as a prior rep (regarding torso/knees/hips).
- Second, you might sacrifice position by leaning forward more at the hips.
- Third, you might let the knees shoot back, and the butt/hips rise too fast.
- Fourth, you might actually fail a rep (or round your back and let the bar roll forward over your head).
Training Safety Considerations
Let’s consider failure as the first example identified above.
When a rep looks different than the prior reps or positioning is compromised in any way, that is considered failure.
Taking this approach to big compound movements will keep the stimulus where we want it and reduce injury risk.
Any time you compromise position, you are technically asking other muscles to help!
You’re saying “my quads can’t do this anymore.”
So, if you then bring the hips/glutes in to help, you are training beyond failure for the muscles you are attempting to target. This means increased fatigue cost and increased risk of injury for almost no return.
One other related concern is in regards to resting at the top of the rep.
Execution should be standardized from rep to rep, and we need to do the same for resting at the top of reps.
For example, if you are able to increase your squat reps because you stood there at the top with your joints stacked for an extra few seconds, that is not an identical performance to the prior week.
We like to encourage a “one breath” rule on any of these movements where there is a resting place.
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