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Go hard or Go home

Praveen Budhrani
Praveen Budhrani
We often see many personal trainers in the gym pushing their trainees, by saying “Common 5 more, 4 ,3,2,1” and by the end of the session, trainee is broken into pieces and not able to go back home (aka; reaching failure). Please don’t get me wrong, I am not at all criticizing the trainer who practice that. In fact going till failure is supported by a landmark study done by “Dr Carl Juneau” in 2005, wherein he concluded that not all repetition have a similar effect on muscle hypertrophy and repetition which are skewed towards the failure seems to have greater muscle building potential and he conceptualized the term known as “Effective Reps”, which are generally 5 reps shy of failure. 
If we go by that study, we should do every set till failure and get maximum gains possible from those Effective Reps, hmm… well not exactly. There is a very latest study done by Carroll et al.,2019, that concluded that training till failure might be rarely worth it and it provides no to minimal effects on muscle building and can even prove to be detrimental in the cases where very high-volume training is done. 
Further as combined view, Dr. Mike Israetel in one of the recent podcasts recently explained that think of benefit derived from Effective Reps as “S-Curve”, which gets flatter as we move towards failure. So, moving from 5 reps shy of failure to 4 reps shy of failure will provide marginally greater hypertrophy on doubt, however that same marginal hypertrophy will keep on reducing as from 4 to 3 , 3 to 2 and eventually, will be very negligible between 1 till actual failure [My friends with commerce and economics background can imagine it as “Law of Diminishing Marginal  Utility”] and he recommended that being around 3 to 1 shy of failure could probably be the most optimum.
Well I wait it’s not that easy, the concept of being shy of failure is called as “Reps in Reserve (RIR)”. As per the research done by Justin Keogh in 2017, which concluded that lifter often tend to highly under predict their Reps in Reserve, however same keeps on improving as lifter becomes more and more advance. So even applying concept of being Reps in Reserve, carries a potential risk of being lazy or undertraining.
Hence to conclude, there is no ideal way of training and it depends on personal preference and how experience the person is. Personally, I think that training till failure can be very useful for single joint exercises like cable lateral raises, bicep curls and triceps kickbacks, which may be performed towards the end of the training session and involve less fatigue and we can keep RIR ranging from 1-3 for heavy compounds movements like Deadlift, Bench press and Military press etc., which are generally performed towards the start of the session and takes out substantial amount of fatigue. Further, in order to avoid underpredicting our capacity, it does make sense to keep log of our workout session.