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I do daily home workouts with two sets per exercise. I perform both sets to failure. Moreover, once I've reached failure, I squeeze for several seconds before I give myself time to pant. What I like about training to failure is that mental comfort of knowing you did your best. It kind of saves you worries and doubt about whether you slack or not. And since I don't see a massive amount of gains (though, I certainly became stronger and more athletic), killing that kind of doubts is important for me. "Well, I couldn't lift/push/curl etc. any more", you say to yourself, and your internal doubt has no counterargument against that. Besides, as I understand it, doing relatively few reps to failure with progressive resistance is important when your focus is strength (as opposed to muscle endurance or speed, for example). I have a three-day cycle: an arm day (which is also a bit of a back day because of face pulls, thanks Jeff), an ab day, a leg day, and then all over again. I believe – though, feel free to disagree – two days of rest is optimal after such failure-based workouts. When should and shouldn't one train to failure? May training to failure be actually killing my gains?

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  • 2 sets per exercise. Ca. twice a week. OK. But how many exercises per muscle group (e.g. legs) and typically how many reps per set? For instance if you only do 4 sets of bodyweight squats in total per week you should probably go to failure on every set. On the other hand if you do lunges, squats and jumping squats wearing a weight vest for a total of 12 sets a week you should probably not go to failure on every set. The latter approach will take more time but should generally give better results. I think you should aim for 10-20 sets per muscle group per week.
    – Andy
    Oct 21, 2022 at 11:11
  • Face pulls are great but I think you should do more exercises for your back. For instance add in bent over one arm rows with a dumbell. Also do you do push-ups? They train your triceps and pecs as well as your abs. Ideally one should train all fundamental movement patterns: t-nation.com/training/the-6-foundational-movement-patterns.
    – Andy
    Oct 21, 2022 at 13:53
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    Your question seems a bit confusing. You talk about strength and athletisism. However you do 20 sets for arms and none for lats. I fail to understand how 20 sets for arms is good for anything besides building huge arms. Personally I have no interest in and no knowledge about this topic. I think it would be more fruitful if you were more upfront about what you are trying to achieve. For instance perhaps by using bodybuilding as a tag.
    – Andy
    Oct 21, 2022 at 21:00
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    If you instead of just hanging were to pull yourself up you would train your grip, forearms, biceps, lats and abs simultaneously. After that you could do some isolation exercise(s) e.g. biceps curls to make sure the above muscles are exhausted.
    – Andy
    Oct 21, 2022 at 21:41
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    @SergeyZolotarev Do you believe everything Jeff says without question? Because he’s wrong far more than he’s right.
    – Thomas Markov
    Oct 23, 2022 at 12:24

3 Answers 3

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My general training philosophy, one that I've picked up from a myriad of different authors and coaches, is that the only time you go to failure is during competition, otherwise there's a high risk of injury and depending on what your training looks like, you burn out really quickly.

Certain modalities of training may differ (I don't have that much experience with bodyweight training), but for things like back squats, deadlifts, kettlebell snatches, etc, I'd never go to failure (failure with kettlebell swings is likely to result in a very large dent in the wall or floor).

I much prefer frequent training sessions, and I don't like the idea that my training is going to leave me so sore it disrupts other things in my life. I've trained like that before, but found much more enjoyment and benefit from more frequent, properly programmed training sessions.

That all being said, I don't train for aesthetics and don't do the traditional "bro split" type training; my training is based around compound lifts 3 - 4 times a week primarily for strength.

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    I think you’re on the right track here, thou guy I’d like to see the distinction between compound and isolation movements made more clear. In particular, going to failure on a compound lift like squat or DL incurs much greater metabolic fatigue than something like a leg extension or a reverse hyper. One could safely go to failure in a tricep push down every set for your whole training career without increasing your injury risk or adversely affecting your recovery, just because the amount of muscle involved is so small, it just doesn’t cost much in terms of metabolic resources to go again.
    – Thomas Markov
    Oct 21, 2022 at 9:38
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Experiments have found that training to failure and training close to failure produces the same hypertrophy when the volume is the same. The strength however had increased more in the close to failure group. This seems to indicate that the close to failure group had less fatigue and could have done more volume in which case they should have gained more hypertrophy than the to failure group.(1)

Further when doing compund movements such as the squat you can train further away from failure than when doing isolation exercises.(1)

So for isolation exercises you should have 2-3 Reps In Reserve (RIR) except for the last set where you go to failure. For isolation exercises with lighter weights in the context of bodybuilding pretty much every set should be to failure (2).

For compund movements you can have higher RIR. You can start with a high RIR (say 10) and decrease this as you work up to your top (heaviest) set where you have 1-3 RIR.

Finally there are probably individual differences. Many respond well to volume whereas some respond better to high intensity and training to failure.

(1) Why Training to Failure Might be Limiting Your Gains

(2) Why You have Little Biceps ( Intensity )

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  • What are your key takeaways from those books? Oct 21, 2022 at 18:20
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Your exercise selection seems wrong if the goal is general health, strength and athletisism.

I saw a favourable review of an Athlean-x program(1). It contained a lot of compund movements that I liked: weighted chin-ups, overhead press, dips, step-ups and lunges.

However a big problem is that Jeff Cavaliere puts out a lot of clickbait in his youtube videos.

An even bigger problem seems to be you picking and matching exercises from Jeffs +1300 videos on youtube without any big picture understanding.

One solution could be that you shell out the money for one of his programs. Considering all his clickbait content; please do not do this. The book Maximum Strength by Cressey is a lot cheaper and contains a program I suspect is very similar to Jeff's programs.

Alternatively you can start getting an overall understanding by reading below.

Exercise selection

There are 100s of strength training exercises, so which should we use?

There are also about 600 muscles in the human body. Clearly all are not equally important. We should put more effort into training the bigger muscles than the small ones, but also try to train as many muscles as possible.

One way we could do this is by creating a list of muscles sorted by their size:

  1. Quadriceps femoris
  2. Gluteus maximus
  3. Deltoid
  4. Triceps Brachii
  5. Iliopsoas
  6. Pectoralis major
  7. Biceps femoris
  8. Latissimus Dorsi
  9. Biceps Brachii
  10. Sartorius¨

We could then try to pick one exercise per muscle. However this is impractical. First it will involve a lot of exercises and take a lot of time. Second it may be difficult to isolate muscles. For instance both the biceps femoris and the sartorius as well as many other muscles flex the knee. And that is the way it is with human motion. Most movements involve many muscles working together.

A more reasonable approach seems to be to pick the exercises that train the largest and most muscles first. That way we would only need to do a few exercises. But how do we know which exercises this is?

Consider two exercises: A 75 kg benchpress and a shoulder shrug with a 15kg dumbell in each hand. Let us calculate the work (force x distance) done in each exercise.

Benchpress

75 kg x 9.81 m/s^2 x 1 m = 736 Nm.

Shoulder shrug

30kg x 9.81 m/s^2 x 0.1 m = 29 Nm.

And what is performing this work? Our muscles! And that is the way muscles get stronger; by performing (heavy) work. So clearly we should pick the benchpress before the shoulder shrug. But does that mean that we should not train the shoulder shrug? Not necessarily. We may find after having selected several other exercises that none of these train the same muscles as the shoulder shrug and therefore decide to add it to our selection.

One thing we have to take into consideration is that our selection of exercises should not overlap too much. For instance we would find that benchpress, narrow bench press and paused bench press all involve a lot of muscle mass. However it is the same muscle mass.

Luckily someone has already solved the above problem for us. There exist a sport where the sole intention is to decide who is strongest across the most muscle mass, and that sport is powerlifting. And they have found that only 3 exercises: the deadlift, the squat and the benchpress test ca. 90% of the muscle mass in the body.

And the reason that these exercises are so great for testing strength also makes them great for building strength.

In addition to these there are two other exercises that involve a lot of muscle mass and complement the ones above: the pull-up and the overhead press.

So our strength training program should be centered around these 5 exercises or variants.

For instance instead of benchpress we can do dips or (weighted) push-ups. Instead of back squat we can do goblet squat or front squat.

It is also a good idea to sometimes do some of the exercises unilaterally. This takes more time but on the other builds more stabilizer musculature. For instance we can do sets of squats and finish with a few sets of lunges.

There may also be exercises that trains smaller muscles that are important for our wellbeing. In particular ones related to posture. Personally I find facepulls and TRX y pulls to be vital for my posture and wellbeing.

We can also do a bit of direct ab work.

When we have finished doing the above important exercises we can do a few exercises for aesthetics. For instance for bigger arms we could choose to do a few sets of barbell curls and triceps pushdowns.

(1) I Paid $100 For An ATHLEAN X Program | WASTE OF MONEY??

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  • Here are a few things to keep in mind 1) If you go to the gym two or three times a week, training everything at once seems to be a great idea. However, if you train daily, as I do (and, I believe, it works best for me), your muscles may not have time to recover 2) I don't go to the gym. I work out at home with barbells and resistance bands only 3) I don't want to be a powerlifter. I want to train specific muscles for specific purposes. For example, explosive extensions, I hope, will help me get explosive punches. Or, strong delts will help me be able to carry heavy weights Oct 23, 2022 at 21:23
  • That said, I start to realize the importance of small muscles. That's part of the reason why I incorporated abductions and adductions into my leg routine Oct 23, 2022 at 21:26
  • If you prefer to train every day I would suggest a Push Pull Legs split. So for instance you do push-ups and overhead presses on the first day, pull-ups, rows and facepulls on the second day and squats and lunges on the third. You can add some extra triceps work on the push day, some extra biceps work on the pull day and some extra ab work on the push and the legs day. You could also take a look at k boges everyday calisthenics routine.
    – Andy
    Oct 23, 2022 at 21:42
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    For explosive punches let some of the push-ups be clapping push-ups. For carrying heavy weights; carry heavy weights aka farmer carries.
    – Andy
    Oct 23, 2022 at 21:53
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    back hyperextension is a pull exercise.
    – Andy
    Nov 23, 2022 at 13:53

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