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  • Sam Dennis

Training To Failure For More Muscle Mass

Don't worry, at the bottom of this article I've put a little arm workout to give you a taste of going to failure.

The age old question - should we train every set to failure? Unsurprisingly... the answer is 'it depends'.

What is the exercise? What are your goals?

What are you trying to achieve with the exercise?

What's your training age?

There's a number of factors that play into this question. But alas, I will attempt to break it down and make things clearer.

Mechanical Tension

The essential principle we need to understand is mechanical tension. I go on about this a lot, but it just shows how significant it is.

Mechanical tension is basically the measurement of motor unit recruitment & actual effort in terms of load being placed on the muscle.

When you complete your sets and reps, most people will go to they feel fatigued and there's some level of technical breakdown. That's not wrong, it most cases that's fine and will still drive hypertrophy (muscle gain) to a degree. However, if we really want to push hypertrophy, we need to be able to increase the amount of mechanical tension experienced by our nervous system. We can do this by going to failure. The more fatigued you get throughout a set, the more motor units (muscle cell thingies that speak to your brain) become involved. The bigger the response becomes from these motor units, the more mechanical tension we are going to experience. The more mechanical tension we can create, the more muscle synthesis we are going to stimulate.

So how can we get more sets to failure and increase the mechanical tension?

Rest/Pause Method There are many methods, but a popular one is coined the rest/pause method. It basically looks like completing a set to failure, resting for 20 seconds, repeating another set to failure, resting 20s, repeating another set to failure, and so on. The point being, we get more reps under our belt where our motor units are experiencing an extremely high level of mechanical tension.

Here's a short arm superset that demonstrates how you might apply this method to the end of your sessions...

Max repetitions - rest 20s - max reps - rest 20s - max reps - rest 20s

Repeat 3x

Max repetitions - rest 20s - max reps - rest 20s - max reps - rest 20s

Repeat 3x

You can also apply the same kind of principle to a strength-based rest-pause set! But we'll leave that for another time!

Any questions reach me at

Happy lifting!


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