How to Take Your Sets Beyond Failure

In Playground Workouts, Progressive Calisthenics, Suspension Training, Uncategorizedby Matt

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I’ve been playing with a new workout style that I really think you’ll like.

A lot of conventional workout wisdom goes something along the lines that you start doing an exercise and then you stop when you can’t do it any more.

There are a few ways we can relate to this:

1- You keep doing reps until you reach failure and you can’t do any more. This approach assumes that you can do the reps just fine and then you hit a wall. So it kind of looks like this:

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2- You keep going until you hit “technical failure” which assumes that you can do the move well and then you’re technique starts to fall apart. At which point you stop.

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3- Some folks advocate the idea that you should keep your technical integrity and stop before you risk your technique falling apart.

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All of these methods have their merits and are great to use. The cool thing about body weight training is that it lends itself so well to all forms of training and works well with the 3 above.

But the above styles all have the same basic idea where fatigue and a lack of ability are signs you should stop. This new style is one where you seek to keep going, but allowing your technique to erode in a controlled manner.

The best way to do this would be to use a shorter range of motion. This works especially well with pull ups.

For example, say you can do 6 full ROM pull ups where your chest comes all the way to your hands. In the 3 examples above you might do 4-6 reps and then stop. With this new style you’ll tell yourself that you’re going to do 12 reps and just see how much ROM you can get on each one.

So on the first 5 reps you get the standard pull up but after that, you don’t get up quite as high. You fall short a few inches. The next rep has slightly less ROM as well. But instead of stopping you keep going, grinding out as much ROM as possible on each rep.  You know you won’t get all the way up, but that’s fine. You’re getting what you can.

By the 12th rep you’re probably only getting a few inches of ROM. You’re still striving for every inch, but you’re at your limit.

This sort of training is similar to when power lifters use blocks or boxes to shorten their ROM. Their goal is to use a set level of resistance and rep range but they are working on improving their ROM and technique over time. The same thing is happening here.

The beauty of this training is that it’s much easier to progress in baby steps. Instead of trying to get more reps or adding on a chunk of weight, you’re going for more ROM during the set. In this way you can fight for one more 1/2 inch of ROM. It’s not a big step but that’s the idea. It’s a tiny baby step that it much more easy to manage both physically and mentally.

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I should mention that the ROM is the only aspect of your technique you’re allowing to erode. Your body position should be as consistent as possible on each rep. It’s just the ROM that’s changing.