Look at the following 2 statements…
- Going to ‘Failure’ is the most important factor in working out for muscle growth
- ‘Progressive Overload’ is the most important factor in working out for muscle growth
Which one is true?
I still get emails about this question despite addressing it in a past article. So I’ll take this opportunity to clarify my position.
The short answer is that Progressive Overload is more important than going to failure, HOWEVER, you should still reach muscular failure somewhere between 8 and 12 reps 95% of the time.
Remember this statement:
The weight you are lifting on any given set should be light enough to allow 8 good reps but heavy enough to prevent you getting more than 12.
You therefore shouldn’t have to choose between progressive overload and failure for the majority of the time. Let me explain….
After you’ve been working out a while (more than 6 months) you get to know that you increase by about 1 rep per set most of the time i.e. If I get 9 reps on my first set of Bench Presses, I’ll probably get 10 reps with the same weight next week. In the future, when I can hit 12 reps, I’ll increase the weight.
However, there will be times when you hit your 9th rep and you know for sure that you can actually get 2 more reps; you’ll just feel strong.
“Hey, I’m going to be able to get another 2 reps here” 🙂 .
This is where the choice between progressive overload and failure comes into play.
- 1 more rep is a progression
- 2 more reps is progression AND failure – what to do?
When you know you can beat last week’s performance by 2 reps, you’re best sticking to progressing by 1 rep.
This virtually guarantees that next week you’ll progress again by at least another 1 rep.
Continual progression is the key to muscle growth.
On the other hand, if you feel super-strong and know that you can perform another 3 or 4 reps on a particular set, you can go ahead and progress by 2 or 3 reps and still ensure success the following week as well.
If you’re wondering how you’ll know when you can get 2 or 3 extra reps, you haven’t been working out long enough. You get to know these things in time. During any set you’ll be able to forecast it’s success after the sixth rep or so. You get to know your body very well with experience.
So the conclusion is: Failure is important and should be sought after, but progressive overload is overrides it!
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I’ll definitely try Overloading this way.
my doctor also recommended me to do Cardio/circuit training to strengthen my Cardiovascular system, lungs and help me burn more fat faster.
I think you said that is better doing the cardio after doing the strength training.
Why you recommend it after and why just 20 minutes?
When benching, for example, I do 4 sets of 8-12 reps. I usually keep the reps the same for each of the 4 sets (10,10,10,10). Then next week I’ll shoot for (11,11,11,11). There a times when I can’t hit that extra one on the last couple of sets. When you speak of progressive overload do you mean per set or just like 1 extra rep per week?? (example 10,10,10,11).
@ Manny. Cardio should be kept short because it can be catabolic (breaks muscle down) if continued too long. Straight after workouts to avoid catabolism again, putting the body through too many sessions
@ Caveman. You’ll normally increase 1 rep or so on 3 or 4 sets out of 9. If you can increase 1 rep on every set, that’s great! If you only increase by 1 rep for the whole workout, that’s also fine but try for more the following week.
ok, i see.
Does Cardio, really breaks so much muscle tissue or just won’t let you get bigger?
i got a few Tae-Bo DVDs at home and Billy does look buff and cut. His workout are 30 to 45 minutes.
Right now i got a belly and like 23% body fat, do you recommend to lose some weight first with the cardio before i get into lifting the weights?
Gotcha, thanks bro.
You have a great way of explaining your points, Mark.
Great advice, I’ll hit the gym later… I will definately take this with me.
Sometimes I go for the “2 extra reps”, but then next time don’t increase at all. That won’t happen again.
Gain hard! 🙂
Thanks Alex, enjoy your gains!
There are many very strong arguments against regularly going to failure. Impressive physiques can and have been built without it, both in body building and without. In many cases, it can slow progress dramatically.
I won’t rehash all of them, but here are some good links:
Hey Mark. Quick Question. Have you ever heard of anyone lifting to gain muscle and size but NOT having the sore muscle feeling any time after their workout? I’m 5’11 160lbs, and have been training for about 6 months. I know the basics and have a pretty good routine going, but for some reason I am NEVER sore after my workouts. I have to wait a solid week after doing any certain lift, and then lift again to feel the soreness again. Any thoughts?