Look at the following 2 statements…

  1. Going to ‘Failure’ is the most important factor in working out for muscle growth
  2. 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. 1 more rep is a progression
  2. 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.

Why?

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!

Stay Motivated!

Mark McManus

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