Every fitness book or PT manual consider failure something to be continuously sought, even recommending various intensity techniques which help to overpass the muscle concentric failure. Now, except for specific cases or short periods of planning (which is a topic that goes beyond this specific discussion), spasmodic search for constant failure is certainly to be avoided. We saw in our previous article on the physiology of muscle contraction which you can read HERE that determining the TYPE OF FIBRE that will be activated (according to its activation threshold) depends on the load applied and not on the number of sets and reps or on the muscle failure. Activation is triggered by the external load and by the explosiveness of the contraction (or by a good ratio between them). We also saw that Type-2x fast fibres with high activation threshold, requiring 80% 1-RM proximal load to activate (or 75% 1-RM, only if applying a strong explosiveness) are those which can be most hypertrophied.
If the load intensity triggers the activation, thus the muscle stimulus, then the volume applied through this load causes the trigger, the preservation and the development of hypertrophic phenomena for a variety of metabolic and mechanical reasons cited in the article mentioned above. If we always work at 1-RM (repetition maximum, failure), the volume that we can produce with a given load will be low, especially if we aim to keep our recovery times between sets short to create a good metabolic stress. We will find ourselves forced to highly decrease loads during the session, and this will cause a gradual drop in the activation of fast fibres with high activation threshold (2x). Frequency is also a crucial parameter. Performing high volume with reduced frequency (mono-frequency) will lead us, at the end of the session, to develop low-quality volume (rubbish). Splitting this volume in different weekly sessions allows us to keep fresh and brilliant workouts and always to maintain high protein synthesis (protein synthesis remains accelerated after workout for 48-72 hours then goes back to baseline levels).
To promote recovery and improve performance we can use creatine with a variable intake from 3g to 10g per day, combined with EAA and a good multivitamin. It is great to add antioxidants such as vitamin C and supplements for checking and reducing cortisol levels. Even sleeping aids may be useful in times of high stress.
An effective and productive protocol could include 4 workouts per week with a frequency per lift of 3 benches, 2 pulls and 2 squats, using good loads (70-90% 1-RM) which vary each session and NEVER to the failure (except during periodic testing). This can be implemented by complementary exercises as front squat, press at 45°, pull with stretched legs, good morning, dips, narrow bench, pushes with dumbbells, supinated pull-ups, neutral grip ring pull-ups, rowing machine, military press and an effective barbell curl, all to be used sparingly in the sessions to avoid progressive overexertion (we talked about the processes of adaptation and about the G.A.S. law HERE.
Failure has to be cyclised, the volume shall be medium and recovery times have never to be lower than 2 minutes.
Enjoy your workout!
Author: Mattia Lorenzini
Personal trainer, expert in sports nutrition and author of the informative project CorporeSano – Food&Training System (corporesanofitness.com)
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