How to Use Muscle Failure to Work Out

Muscle failure exercises build strength, but require frequent breaks.
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Muscle failure occurs when you've performed an action so many times, you can't perform another repetition and need a recovery break before you can continue. It can happen within just a few reps if you use a heavy weight or high-resistance setting on a machine. Performing resistance exercises until your muscles fatigue to failure might help you build maximal muscle, but it isn't the best way to burn calories, create toning workouts or improve muscular endurance for beginner strength-trainers. These types of workouts require more reps and fewer recovery breaks. If you want to include muscle failure in a bodybuilding workout, there are several ways to incorporate this type of exercise into your routines.

Step 1

Calculate your one-repetition maximum for each exercise, which is the amount of weight you can use to perform an exercise one time before failure. Calculate 60 percent, 70 percent and 80 percent of your one-rep max for each exercise to create exercise sets using a warmup and working weight.

Step 2

Practice the exercises with different weights to determine what loads will force you failure within 90 seconds, so you can perform high-rep, low-load workouts. Practice exercises with different weights to determine what loads will cause you failure within four to six reps so you can perform low-rep, high-load workouts. Determine which exercises will require a spotter, such as those performed with a barbell. Practice non-weighted exercises, such as body-weight or resistance band exercises, slowly to determine how many reps you can do before you fail.

Step 3

Perform a high-load, low-rep workout starting with an amount of weight that will allow you to perform four to six reps before failure, with each rep being challenging to perform with proper form. Perform a warm-up set of four to six reps using about 60 percent of your one-rep max. Perform a second warm-up set using about 70 percent of your one-rep max. Finish with three sets using 80 percent of your one-rep max. Take a two- to three-minute break between each set. Continue increasing the amount of weight you use so that your final rep causes you to fatigue to failure. Perform non-weighted exercises slowly, pausing between each uplift and downlift, until you fail.

Step 4

Reverse this procedure using drop sets. Start with approximately 70 percent of your one-rep max and perform reps to failure. Take a two- or three-minute break, then decrease the amount of weight to 60 percent and perform reps to failure. Continue decreasing the amount of weight you use until you finish three to five sets.

Step 5

Perform a low-load, high-rep workout using at least 60 percent of your one-rep max. Perform eight to 12 repetitions of the exercise. Increase the amount of weight you use if your final rep doesn’t cause you to fatigue to failure. Perform non-weighted exercises at a moderate intensity so you can perform more reps until you fail.

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