Laurie Christine King training to failure at the end of a cycle in the gym.

Training To Failure At The End Of A Cycle

Movement-Specific Failure

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

When you look at the failure spectrum, it 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 positioning is compromised in any way… when a rep looks different than the prior reps, that is considered failure.

Taking this approach to big compound movements will keep the stimulus where we want it and reduce injury risk.

If you compromise position, you are in effect 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.

Tempo Differences

One other related concern is in regards to resting at the top of the rep.

Much like execution, which needs to be standardized from rep to rep, we need to do the same for resting at the top of reps.

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.

For this reason, we encourage a “one breath” rule on any of these movements where there is a resting place.

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