Written by Gage Reid of Nova Strength
Photo by Recon
In the case of being a competitive Powerlifter, failing lifts and missing reps in the gym can be one of the most detrimental things to your progression. Contrary to popular belief and by some people's Instagram's, you don't need to go hard and grind every rep, every training session. Yes, heavy, challenging sets are crucial for strength development, but there's a specific time and place where they should be utilised. On the other side of the coin, your training should be focused mostly on sub-maximal training (training at 65%-85%) with a focus on repetition speed, form and technique.
According to a study performed by Sanmy R. Nóbrega and Cleiton A. Libardi, "Is Resistance Training to Muscular Failure Necessary?", they concluded that training to muscular failure (training until you start failing reps) may not be necessary to hypertrophic gains.
"In conclusion, considering the evidence regarding untrained subjects, it seems plausible to suggest that HI-RT aka Hi Intensity Resistance Training to failure is not necessary for maximal increases in strength and hypertrophy. On the other hand, repetitions to failure seem essential for increases in muscle strength and mass of similar magnitude to HI-RT when performing LI-RT aka low-Intensity Resistance Training. When it comes to trained individuals, evidence shows greater increases in muscle strength after HI-RT performed to muscle failure compared to no failure. Similarly to untrained individuals, muscle failure at LI-RT might be an interesting strategy for maximizing muscle hypertrophy. However, it does not promote maximal increases on muscle strength when performed by strength trained individuals."
"Is Resistance Training to Muscular Failure Necessary? (2016)", Sanmy R. Nóbrega and Cleiton A. Libardi
At the end of the day, you are free to train the way you'd like and follow whatever training protocol you like. If you're more into having likes on Instagram training videos rather than big pounds on your total on meet day, then go ahead and max out every session. But, if you're a competitive Powerlifter whose main focus is pounds on the bar when it matters on meet day, then you should definitely look into your training methodologies.
Some key takeaway points:
- Hitting max attempts and huge AMRAP sets may be great for your Instagram account, but in the long run it's killing your chances at a big meet performance.
- Reps in training should be smooth, fast, precise and within the sub-maximal range for the majority of your training cycle leading up to the meet.
- Missing reps in training doesn't make you stronger, making them does.
- Central Nervous System (CNS) fatigue and cortisol spikes from constantly missing max attempts is very real, and the whole "train insane or remain the same" thing is great until you've plateaued for 6 months and/or have injuries piled up, so you can train insane as much as you want but if you aren't recovering from training then it's pointless and counterproductive.
- Training to failure and doing "burn out sets" are not crucial for hypertrophy and are more than likely hindering your progress.