• Fill out the form below and I'll send you my special report, Fat Loss Secrets Exposed, absolutely free.


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 comments and I’ll share a bunch of “intelligent” methods with you tomorrow.

Until then, train to succeed.



    • Post a comment!

    • Share this post! Share this post easily via Facebook, Twitter, Email or any social bookmarking site using the above uber widget!

    • Get FREE stuff! Get my Fat Loss Secrets Exposed report and a bunch of other free stuff when you subscribe to this blog at the top of the page!

Related Posts

  • No Related Posts
92 comments - add yours
Reply  |  Quote


I think you’re right on with the concept of failure. I did both P90X and Insanity and both trainers exponded the same concept.

I was able to train intensively 6 days a week for the time they specified and got great results.

Looking forward to hearing from you again.

Matt Soza
Soza Fitness and Wellness, Cleveland, Ohio

Reply  |  Quote

Thanks so much Joel for sharing and giving so much of your time and expertise. Very inspiring and informative!!

Reply  |  Quote

Thanks for the insight! I love getting all the different view points here, but I totally agree, overtaxing the CNS is a sure way to kill your motivation and therefore your benefits.

@ Rusty! Thanks for your great info as well!

Reply  |  Quote

Some here might be missing just good old energy! It takes energy to work out and then to build muscle. Sounds like some are lacking enough energy, not strength, to finish their sets. My muscles can get tired but my energy level pushes me on.

Maybe some of you here are not considering your breathing during your lifts.

Also, if you have been training for a while, you should know your habits by now and should know what failure is for you. Train your muscle groups with a plan to do a little more every week or so to reach your goals.
To me failure is not an option…I lift to succeed!!! I may need to get 7 reps on my last set but knowing how exhausted ( another way of saying failure) I may be, I shoot for a good 4 or 5. This allows me to stay in a mind set of success.

Reply  |  Quote

Sometimes individuals who are enusiastic about fitness need to be reminded how to do certain things correctly. I can hardly believe that some people still force reps to the point of potentially throw there backs out! I’m glad that you posted this.

Reply  |  Quote

Does it matter if one doesn’t reach failure at every exercise session?

Reply  |  Quote

I agree Joel, I don’t like failing at anything. Why lift weights until I am going to fail when I can do as much as my body will allow and succeed. It’s such a better feeling, not only physically (central nervous system), but also mentally.

Reply  |  Quote

True, But if you can only do say 8 reps with a certain weight, and you only do 8 reps each week without trying to push it harder why would your muscles adapt? They have no reason to grow they can already do 8 reps if there is no stimuli to become stronger why should they?

Reply  |  Quote

Wow, I so agree with you, Joel.
I demonstrated this to myself last week. I started a new routine and guessed on some weights for the “heavy” sets. Usually, I plan the weight so that last rep is difficult and I can tell I’d have to cheat for the next one. That’s not always easy to figure when starting a new routine using different exercises or different orders/reps, but I’m always close, more often guessing too light. Well, I guessed wrong and had too much weight on the wide-grip bench press, but turned “stubborn fool” and forced myself through the last 2 reps anyway, even though I had to twist and arch my back -and despite realizing on rep #2 that I had too much weight on the bar! Well, I paid for it. The top of my spine ached for three days and I had to skip a squat/deadlift day because of it.
Aren’t we humans amazingly proud creatures? Even when we know we’re wrong, sometimes we just got to go through with it anyway. Hopefully, I’ve taught myself that for the last time – lifting weights at least! :)

Anyway, I agree with your philosophy on it. Train to intense success rather than to failure. Definitely safer on the body – and gets better results!

Reply  |  Quote

Hey there Joel. I have been training to failure for almost a year now (im 17 years old) and I have went from 125 stick to 190 pound man. Anyways I don’t really understand the concept of what you are saying because I have been training with complete intensity and progression for a year now. I have pushed myself to really squeeze out that last rep to stimulate muscle growth. I mean if you push yourself passed failure that would result in injury. And I believe that if you train only 3 times a week with failure you will prevent injury and it will also give you a lot of time to recover from your workout.


Reply  |  Quote

wow, all this time i thought traing to failure was good for muscle building because training to failure is considered HIT thanks for this joel

Reply  |  Quote

In Rob Poulus book I read this “Let’s assume you can perform a maximum of 8 repetitions of a given exercise with 100lbs, and not 1 rep more despite your greatest effort.” I took this to mean that I should keep going until my muscles simply can’t do any more, i.e. I stop when my muscles can’t lift me all the way up from a deadlift for example. I’ve been following the 8-10 reps, 1 set, 100% intensity, full body workout 2-3 times a week from Rob’s book and it has worked wonders for me. Interested in seeing what you have to say about this subject.

Reply  |  Quote

I always finish my sets but the last 2 -3 reps is with overload. Thanks for advice on failure tho will keep that in mind.

Reply  |  Quote

@Asdis – I agree, I have been using this method as well… so which way is right?

Reply  |  Quote

When you go to failure isn’t that your max weight. Being unable to do another rep. I need more intellgence!

Reply  |  Quote

@Joel Marion

After reading a lot of material written by Neurophysiologist Chad Waterbury I was under the impression that when your rep speed starts to slow down that means that your biggest motor units are actually dropping out and therefore you should stop the set, since the biggest motor units have the most potential for mass and strength gains you shouldn’t continue a set when they have dropped out.

I’ll be looking forward to reading what you have to say about this. Thanks Joel.

Reply  |  Quote

Originally Posted By Username@dimitra

I can totally relate, dimitra! It is unnerving to be noticed now; I feel like I’m under a microscope sometimes. It can actually be sort of humiliating. We’ll both have to get used to the idea that being noticed isn’t an inherently negative thing.

when you look good and feel good, being noticed and complemented is a wonderful thing!! there is nothing humiliating about it. i am 50 but don’t look it. i dress nicely, i am young at heart and mind, i belly dance and i thrive on compliments from men and women. i hate to blend in in a crowd and i love to walk into a room and grab attention. i succeed every time and i love to hear the compliments about my physique!!! they motivate me to continue looking great!! dimitra and username don’t EVER stop trying to look good and keeping in shape!!!!!

You must be logged in to post a comment.

© 2010 and Beyond. Premium Web-based Coaching, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Read our entire privacy policy  here