The Best of Both Worlds

Here are two questions often asked in the strength world:

  1. Should you train to failure or not?
  2. Should you perform your reps fast or slow?

You’ll see authorities on either side of the fence for both issues, but the reality is that any stimulus will work for a period of time until you adapt to it. There’s a way, however, to combine these methods within a workout for a potent response.

Here’s how to do it…

Design your program so that each workout consists of 4 exercises: an “A” pair of exercises and a “B” pair of exercises.

The “A” Exercises: alternate between two antagonistic, multi-joint movements, perform up to 6 sets of low reps (4-6) at a moderate to slow tempo (4-0-2-0) with 90 seconds of rest between sets, and keep plenty of reps in reserve (use a 10RM load), but on the last set go to failure.

The “B” Exercises: alternate between two antagonistic, single-joint movements, perform up to 3 sets of high reps (15-20) at a fast tempo (1-0-X-0) with 60 seconds of rest between sets, and take each set to failure.

Here’s what a sample 2-day split would look like: 

Day 1 – Upper BodyDay 2 – Lower Body
A1. Wide-Grip Pull-UpA1. Wide-Stance Back Squat
A2. 60-Degree Incline Barbell PressA2. Inverted Squat
B1. Seated Twisting Offset-Grip Dumbbell CurlB1. Seated Leg Extension
B2. Standing Rope PressdownB2. Lying Dorsiflexion Leg Curl

The evil Russian Pavel Tsatsouline is known to recommend loads between 1/3 to 2/3 of maximum; whereas, strength sensei Charles Poliquin recommends training to failure for the most part. Research indicates that at least one set should be brought to failure or close to failure for maximum gains. So a compromise between training to failure and non-failure seems to be the best approach, and this program offers that. With the “A” exercises, you get a blend of doing many sets of high-quality reps to non-failure for neural adaptations, followed by one grueling set taken to failure for metabolic adaptations.

With regards to the “B” exercises, it’s true that moderate- to high-intensity training is required for maximum gains, but research also indicates that low-intensity training can work just as well as long as it’s conducted to failure. Furthermore, fast-twitch fibers, which have the greatest potential for size and strength, come in to play with high loads (slow speeds) and with low loads (fast speeds). They can actually “leap frog” past slow-twitch fibers if low-load reps are conducted explosively (see page 20 of The Elite Trainer for more information).

So by training to failure and non-failure and by performing reps fast and slow, you get the best of both worlds and more importantly, you get out-of-this-world results!

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