Failure Training Progression Over a Mesocycle for Hypertrophy

flatwhite Hardgainer, Muscle Gain, Tall Lifter, Training 0 Comments

If you have read my stuff then, you’ve probably heard about progressive overload.


Progressive overload is fundamental to you seeing results from your training.


It is one of the basic principles of sport science/athletic performance training.


It is also pretty simple…


It has two components:


  1. Your training should represent an overload
  2. It should be progressive in nature.


That means you should train hard enough to force your body to adapt and overtime this training should get harder.


Simple, right?


The obvious way to achieve the above in weight training is to lift more weight. That is exactly what people do. They slap another 2.5kg on the bar and get after it.


This is perfectly sensible.


However, as you get more advanced you cannot just throw another 2.5kg on to your previous best session after session.


Progress simply isn’t linear.


That is why we have to manipulate training variables to keep making progress. For want of a better word we can call this periodisation.


Adjusting how often you train, how much you do per session, and the rep ranges you work in you can get phenomenal results. This level of thought is far more than most put into their training and it will yield excellent gains.


There are other variables you can adjust though.


The more advanced you are the more you should consider these.


The variable I am going to briefly cover today is proximity to failure.


Do you take all your sets to complete failure? Or do you always leave a few reps in the tank?


Dogmatically following either of these two extremes is not optimal.


I’ll give you a clue…working between the two extremes is far better. I don’t mean always leaving just one rep in the tank. I mean, over the course of several weeks, transitioning from working far from failure, to hitting that point where gravity wins the battle and you fail a rep.


If you do this you will lose the occasional battle, but you’ll win the battle of building a more muscular physique.


Proximity to failure has been studied fairly closely of late with regards to strength outcomes. This has led to the development of a weight training specific rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale and the reps in reserve (RIR) value. By and large these are the same things. They measure the same thing, but just have a different description.


The RPE scale works from 1-10. For example, an 8RPE means you have two reps left in the tank. A set taken two reps from failure would be reported as 2RIR using the RIR approach. While the RPE scale came about first I think the RIR is a better approach as it avoids any confusion.


Utilising RIR for Muscle Gain


As you become more advanced you cannot always train to failure, but you also have to train hard enough to force adaptation. to provide an overload. That overload needs to be progressive as outline earlier.  Doing so is hard. As a consequence of this hard training you also need to occasionally deload. So, within each block of training you can use RIR to elegantly solve this problem.


By beginning a phase with a high(er) RIR you can take the minimum effective dose (MED) approach. Do enough to get an adaptation, but leave room in the tank for more. Because of this you can add sets, reps, and/or weight the following week and work to a smaller RIR. Over several weeks this means you do more volume (set x reps x load). Volume is highly correlated to muscle gain.


You also increase the intensiveness of your sessions. Because more sets are done closer to failure more of the reps are “effective” (see here, here and here for more on effective sets and effective volume).


The training towards the end of the phase is therefore incredibly effective.


So, why not do it all the time?


Because it is also really draining on recovery. If you do it all the time you’ll burn out, get injured, demotivated, or overtrain.


None of the above is good.

Sometimes you have to go leastmode to facilitate beastmode Click To Tweet

So, realise you cannot go beastmode 24/7/365. Sometimes you have to go leastmode to facilitate beastmode. If you do, you will allow yourself the opportunity to spend more overall time in the “goldilocks” zone of training volume.


The more training you can do in this zone without exceeding your capacity to recover the better your results.

The more training you can do in this zone without exceeding your capacity to recover the better your results. Click To Tweet

Here is a practical example of how this could look within a phase of training:


Week 1 – 4RIR

Week 2 – 3RIR

Week 3 – 2RIR

Week 4 – 1RIR

Week 5 – 0RIR

Week 6 – Take 1set per body part past failure (e.g., drop set, superset, forced reps etc.) all other sets 0RIR

Week 7 – Deload

Week 8 – Repeat


Confused about how to set-up your training to get maximal results? Get in touch and I’ll help you out. Or, Grab my Max Muscle Bundle here to get a proven 12 week muscle building training and nutrition plan done for you for only £14.99.

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