Strength athletes don’t need at-failure sets to achieve growth


From Ergo Log

Even if strength athletes don’t squeeze all the reps possible out of their sets they can still give their muscles the growth stimulus they need, and build up strength and muscle mass. Danish sports scientists at the National Research Center for the Working Environment came to this conclusion after doing a study in which 15 untrained women were the test subjects.

At failure
There’s no unanimous agreement among athletes, trainers and scientists about whether strength athletes need to train at failure: i.e. that they need to perform the maximum amount of reps they can in each set.

Those in favour say yes, of course: ‘intensity breeds immensity’. Those against say no, ‘failure breeds failure’.

The Danes got their subjects to perform lateral raises. On one occasion the women had to lift heavy weights with which they were only capable of performing three reps [3RM]. On another occasion the women used lighter weights, with which they could manage 12-15 reps. The women continued lifting these until they were no longer able to do so [Failure].

The researchers attached electrodes to the women’s muscles so they could measure how hard they had to work. The results are shown below.

The researchers discovered to start with that the women’s muscles worked harder at the lower weight, when they were able to perform 12-15 reps.

Secondly they discovered that when the women were using the lighter weights their muscles started to work more intensively the more reps they did, until about 3 reps before failure, when the intensity flattened off.

“Going to complete failure during lateral raise is not necessary to recruit the entire motor unit pool”, the researchers conclude. They emphasise that the subjects were untrained. Whether their findings are also valid for athletes who have been training for a number of years they don’t know.

J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jul;26(7):1897-903.



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