What Does Muscle Failure Really Mean?

By Nancy Andrews

What Does Muscle Failure Really Mean?

Apr 2nd, 2012 | By Nancy Andrews | Category: Coach Nancy - The Way I See It...

The other day one of my clients wrote me with the following question:

…what does it mean to push your muscles to failure?  How do you know?  Is there a burning sensation?  Or shaking?

This is a great question because I don’t typically have to think about this but what’s obvious to me isn’t always true for everyone.  So what is muscle failure?

Muscle failure occurs when the muscles you are working no longer are able to fully contract in the move.  So if you are doing bicep curls, the point where you just can’t get that dumbbell more than, say 1/3 of the way up is when you have reached muscle failure.  There may be shaking before you hit your max and there should be some pain but neither burning nor shaking in and of themselves are the point of failure.

Honestly it is tough for most women to truly get to muscle failure not because we can’t but because we won’t.  Too many magazines show us slim beauties lifting light weights and we are left with and oddball notion that this will suffice.  It won’t!  And just beginning to feel a burn isn’t enough, you gotta push harder until your muscles give up.

Now should you lift to failure with every set and/or every exercise?  Honestly it’s extremely hard mentally and physically to lift to failure with every set on every exercise.  So what do I recommend?

For each muscle group targeted, after a warm up set, I’d go to failure at least once on an exercise or two.  The bigger the muscle group, the more times you should push.  For example, triceps or shoulders on most women are pretty small muscle groups so just pick one set of one exercise to go heavy weights to failure in a 6 – 9 rep range.  By that I mean you have to lift heavy enough that your muscles will give out somewhere between the 6th and 9th rep.  Then on the other  sets, go a bit lighter with higher reps.  On those subsequent sets, even with lighter weights, go for a burn in the muscle group being worked.

Now if you are working bigger muscles (back or legs, for example) then pick more than one set to go heavy on.

Lifting to failure is the way to create a significant change in your hormonal state.  This change is the catalyst for adding lean mass and burning fat.  So go for it gals!!!



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