Training Til Failure

Ah, another topic that popped into my head while coaching some of our athletes during the week.  By the way, an awesome week of training is awesome.  When you see guys and girls progressing and throwing it down in the facility, one cannot help but get excited.  However, one thing I tend to tell athletes to shy away from is missing a lift during a set.  It is the early off-season for many of our hockey players and the concept of “early” in their program is emphasizing improving the mobility restrictions and general strength and power back up to baseline.  The season is long so these qualities tend to diminish during that time.  Most of the guys, have been with us for a few years and they move pretty well.  Consequently, it is more on fine-tuning form and managing how hard they are going at first.  For beginners or intermediate athletes (most of our athletes), the training is about coaching intensely and making sure that everything looks good.  Where am I going with this considering the topic is about training til failure?  Beginners or intermediate trainees should almost never go to failure.  Why?  

  • Dan John calls it “a sort of max” for the experienced athletes but I think it applies to almost all athletes. Technique should be top priority, then weight.  Lift till you have around 1-2 in the tank and call it
  • When you keep failing in a lift, you are doing just that….failing. Crush the weight successfully
  • If you are training athletes consider they practice and play a lot, and now you are crushing the CNS even more if they are experienced.  Training till failure will often lead someone to feeling like garbage the next day or so (it is noted that with max effort lifting or performing in their event like sprinting, sometimes they cannot train or be back to normal after weeks!)

Who else thinks this is a smart idea?  The late great sprinting coach Charlie Francis explained for sprint training to run at an “almost 100%.” Again, leave 1 or 2 in the tank.  However, we want to train hard!  We want to push all athletes and there is nothing like having an atmosphere where you and your buddies or teammates are pushing each other in the weightroom.  I love that and so should the athletes but there is a time and place for it.  Also, look at the typical client or athlete.  If they come in 2x/week you can most likely work them hard especially if they are beginner/intermediate and even advanced.  Do not let the technique go to crap, that is all I ask.  If you notice they start to miss the last set or get only have way through one, they it would be a great choice to pick a weight they maintain for all sets or to hit a heavier more challenging weight in the mid-set.

  • Example: 4 x 6 on Bench: If the max 6 reps is 80’s for someone then hit the heaviest (75s or 80s) in the 2nd or maybe 3rd set, but back off for the 4th.  Of course, we need to see how it looks to assess.

Ben Johnson (coached by Charlie Francis): human bowling ball flying down the track

  • For beginners or intermediate athletes: technique is first and as they get more comfortable with the movement, increase weight to challenge but not annihilate them. Keep them succeeding at lifts but challenge slowly.
  • Encourage adequate sleep and nutrition: it is often forgotten how powerful these both are considering without both you will never see optimal gains unless they are drug induced.
  • Power movements: Cleans, snatches, Jumps etc.. keep in lower rep range 3-6.  Why in the heck are people recommending these movements for a ton of intense reps?  Stupid.
  • Lift for a “sort of max” on the main lift if that is your focus
  • If you start to notice feeling like absolute garbage the next day or so sore that you can even move, it would be wise to back off on the volume.  This is why I have come to love the lower volume work, ala Dan John or Jim Wendler programming style.  Training 3-4x/week is all you need most of the time!

Cheers and Go Flyers,


Categories: Strength Training

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