The 3 Steps To Total Muscular Failure

What is important is that you make sure your muscles are challenged in every workout if you wish for continued change in body composition (bigger/ more muscle). The Challenge refers to the level of Intensity of the workout. There are many ways to challenge your muscles and make it more Intense for them, to solicit change - e.g. increase weight, increase volume, increase time under tension, decrease rest periods, use different exercise variations, decrease rep tempo, drop-sets, rest-pause sets plus other set structures. However, there are ways in which the muscles fatigue that you absolutely must take advantage of for maximal muscle gain:

1. Positive Failure

This is when the weight cannot be lifted up anymore, Concentrically. When training alone this will be the time the set stops, as no more movement of the weight can occur. This is the first part of the exercise that will fail and is anatomically the weakest of the 3 steps to full muscular failure.

Increase Intensity By:

Incorporating a Rest/Pause Set on the last Set of each exercise.

2. Static Failure

This is when the weight cannot be held Isometrically any longer during the exercise, meaning it cannot be held in one position without lowering the weight. Isometric holds can be included at any part of the rep or set but are generally included only after reaching positive failure and started from the apex/ top of the movement. This will be the second part of the exercise that will fail and is the second weakest of the 3 steps to full muscular failure.

Increase Intensity By:

Incorporating an Isometric Hold to failure at the apex of the movement on the last rep.

3. Negative Failure

This is when the weight cannot be controlled in a slow and controlled manner during the lowering or Eccentric phase of the rep. The weight simply becomes too much to even ensure a slow decent to the bottom of the movement. This principle can be implemented after Isometric failure, and as the Isometric phase fails you will naturally start lowering the weight as a result, this in turn becomes Negative failure as you try to prevent the weight from dropping. This is the strongest of the 3 steps to full muscular failure and will fail last.

Increase Intensity By:

Incorporate Forced Reps (with a partner) for 2-3 Reps on the last 1-2 sets of each exercise. For more info on Forced Reps click here.

No matter how you choose to exert more Intensity onto your muscles, you must take advantage of these principles in your training if you wish for maximum muscle gains. For more Info on Optimal Training click here.


If you find that the order in which you fail is different to these 3 stages then you are performing the exercise wrongly. An example of this would be if someone used a weight that they could not perform even one perfect rep on but instead performed the exercise poorly by compensating hugely with other body parts, momentum or with help from a spotter. Then didn't have the strength to lower it in a slow and controlled manner but dropped it fast, then performed another rep with all the same help. In this example it may seem that the Negative portion failed before the Positive, but in reality the positive was not a true positive and failed before even one full rep could be performed. This is a mechanical reason why poor form doesn't build maximal muscle - not enough stimulation on the right muscles.

Happy Lifting!



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