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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Work with a professional trainer if you have not used weights before to determine if exercises that fatigue your muscles to failure are right for you, how often you should perform these types of workouts and how to spot signs of overtraining.
- Warm up with non-weighted dynamic movements before each workout. Swing your arms, jog in place, perform arm circles and do quick lunges to gently and gradually warm and stretch your muscles. Hold stretches after workouts to avoid the temporary power decrease caused by static stretching and to improve muscle flexibility for future workouts.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.