I see a lot of people in the gym, day in day out, pushing as hard as they can push and still not getting the
gains they want in the mirror. What are they doing wrong, their form looks
good, their weight is good, and they are giving it all they have..... Or are
One of the biggest mistakes in the gym is giving up the exercise just when you’re about to get into the most
important reps of the day. It’s right then, right when you’ve given everything
you have, that you need to dig deep and finish it. It might only be 2 or 3 more
reps, but everything else has been leading up to this. All previous reps were
the journey, these are the destination. It’s the last few reps that seem almost
impossible that really affect muscle to create the changes you want. In order
to cause the process that leads to muscular repair and growth, you need to
first expend the muscles energy – this is the ‘journey’ I’ve mentioned above,
the majority of the reps you’ll do. Once the muscle has pretty much expended
all of its energy and you’re still asking it to work, this is when your body
starts to stand up and listen, it knows something has to change in order to
cope with the extra stress you’re putting it under. You’ll break down the
muscle fibres further and allow for greater repair, and it’s this process of
constant attack and repair, attack and repair, week on week that will sculpt
your body and give you the gains in strength and muscle mass that you’re
Fair enough, it’s easier said than done, and it is here that a spotter can really come in handy. I trained
chest yesterday and had a friend close by for my final reps to help me
stabilise my arms while I did all the pushing. Once the weights were up, it was
time to bring them down, as slowly as possible in order for the last bit of
power left in my negative to be dealt with. The pain of trying to push that far
beyond what you think your body can do is momentary; you just have to want
What do I do if I don’t have a spotter I hear you ask; you drop set.
Drop setting is something I recommend to everyone (whether you have a spotter or not), I do it on the last
set of nearly every exercise I perform.
It is a great way of finishing off the muscle, of making sure that there
is really nothing left in the tank. Let’s say you’re chest pressing 20KG
dumbbells, have a set of 15KG dumbbells at your feet and as soon as you can’t
do any more presses with the 20’s, drop them and pick up the 15’s and continue
pressing until you’ve nothing left. You can even triple drop set by having a
set of 10KG dumbbells ready as well, so when you can no longer lift the 15’s,
grab the 10’s. You might feel like a bit of a sissy when you’re left pushing
with everything you have and still making it look difficult to raise a set of
10KG dumbbells but you have to remember that you’re not here to train your ego.
Your chest will be completely depleted. That’s how you know that you’ve gone
beyond failure, and that’s how you’ll increase muscular hypertrophy.
Now I’m certainly not suggesting anyone should go and pick up a weight that is clearly too heavy for them – the
goal is not to hurt yourself, but to push yourself. Pick a weight that
challenges you, set a target amount of reps in your head, or notebook. I don’t
consider it a set unless I can do at least 6 reps using the given weight. I’ll
usually aim for about 8 – 10 reps as my failure mark, but try to push it to 12,
usually with the aid of a spotter, in order to go beyond failure. If I can hit
12 reps without the need for my spotter, I’ll increase the weight slightly for
the next set.
This gradual increase of weight can take me to a point where at least my positive will fail and I’ll need help
to go beyond and ensure I finish off the negative as well.
So next time you’re finishing off a set, make sure you’ve done everything you can to really finish it off. Don’t
cheat yourself by just having a good workout, when it could be a great workout.
Go beyond failure and the results will speak for themselves.