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When You SHOULD Terminate Your Sets

Posted by Joel Marion

In Part I of our discussion on training to failure, I asked you a question:

“When do YOU terminate your sets?”

In the comments section of that post, you responded.

The consensus?

There wasn’t one. I mean, not even close.

Replies ranged from the very conservative “when the speed of movement slows down” (which I think is bogus, and I’ll provide my thoughts in another post) to the much more extreme use of “forced” reps (having a spotter assist you to complete more repetitions, as “the kid” from my previous story reluctantly had me do for him) on a regular basis.

Needless to say, due to the wide range of replies, this is an area that is an area that most here could use some clarification on, and that’s exactly what I plan to give you over these next few posts.

For today, I promised to share with you what I feel to be the ideal point of termination for your sets, but first let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.

What is “failure”?

While fairly self-explanatory, the term “failure” does indeed carry quite a bit of ambiguity within the bodybuilding and fitness communities.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s define failure in terms of completed repetitions.

If you complete a repetition (in good form), you succeed (at completing that repetition, thus no failure occurs). If you do not complete the repetition (again, in good form), you fail.

This is failure.

Some strength coaches will try to tell you that if you barely complete the last repetition of a given set and would not be able to perform any subsequent repetitions, you have trained that set to failure. This is distorting the English language.

When did you fail? You didn’t.

Simply put, you fail when you attempt something and do not succeed.

With that said, here’s my “general” recommendation on set termination:

If you will be unable to complete the next repetition in near perfect form, terminate the set.

In other words, avoid failure.


Simply put, attempting to move a load (in an already hyper-fatigued state) and having to set it back down because you are unable to lift it again is extremely taxing on a central nervous system, which is the major cause of overtraining.

The harder you push, the more damage you do to your CNS, and the less effective your workouts become. Not only that, but before you know it you’ll be feeling like s#%t, too.

A winning combo, I know.

Bring on the skipped workouts, inconsistency, and lack of progress!

There’s no way around it: abuse your central nervous system with true “failure” training day in and day out, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to fail altogether.

That said, notice I prefaced my recommendation by saying it was a general recommendation.

Do I ever train to failure? Yep. And when used “intelligently”, failure training can yield exceptional results.

At least 120┬ácomments and I’ll share a bunch of “intelligent” methods with you tomorrow.

Until then, train to succeed.



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