Training to failure almost sounds like a self-defeating plan. Who wants to “fail” all the time, right? A lot of people.
See, in bodybuilding, training to failure means doing so many reps that you physically can’t complete anything more. The objective is to induce the most possible muscle growth by pumping maximum blood to the area.
To be fair, opponents of training to failure claim it will tire your nervous system, increase injury risk, wreck recovery, and beat your body to death. These reactions can occur in a beginner, which is why those new to training to failure should start out with a predetermined set/rep scheme, and stick to it. Novices tend to slack off and use poor technique in an effort to train to failure all the time, which kills progress and could result in injury.
But for someone who has been training with proper technique for multiple years, training to failure can have lots of benefits: boosting strength levels, crushing plateaus, and getting the ultimate pump. By doing as many reps as possible with a given weight, you create an enormous stimulus for growth.
Training to failure increases motor unit activation and the secretion of muscle-building hormones, like HGH and testosterone, compared to conventional methods, according to a 2007 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study. AMRAP strengthens your mind, too: Without a definitive stopping point, you’ll work harder than you could ever imagine.
But how do you avoid serious injuries if you go “all out”? AMRAP isn’t an invitation for ugly technique; it’s as many as possible while maintaining great form. The instant your form deteriorates, stop. Your motor control and muscular strength will disconnect and make your results worthless. Here are five ways to incorporate AMRAP into your routine to start building more muscle and strength now.
Training to failure 101
1. Use it to increase your strength and regulate your workout
If your typical legs workout is 4 sets of 5 reps of back squats, change the last set to AMRAP. If you can only do 6 or 7 good reps, you’re correctly pushing yourself on those previous sets; if you can get 10 or more, however, the weight is too light on the previous sets.
2. Use it to improve your muscular endurance
Building endurance alters your muscles at the microscopic level, which improves your recovery between heavy sets at the gym or even during your pickup basketball game. Put a number on the bar (e.g., your bodyweight or 200lbs) for an exercise, and perform one or two sets of AMRAP. Then, the next week, beat your number.
3. Only do two sets of AMRAP at most per workout
If you’re going to do 5×5 on the bench press, use the last set for AMRAP, not all of them. If you want to do an AMRAP back squat workout with 200lbs, do it for two sets at most and include ample rest in-between.
4. Use AMRAP for four weeks at most
Although you can handle AMRAP peridocially, it is fatiguing. Add AMRAP to your workouts for a maximum of four weeks, then schedule a quick deload and cycle to a different set/rep scheme. After a few weeks, use AMRAP again.
5. Use AMRAP on simpler variations of exercises
Use AMRAP with simpler moves like chest-supported rows, dumbbell presses, goblet squats, pushups, and pullups. Never do AMRAP with complex exercises like power cleans, deadlifts, good mornings, or overhead squats—as you fatigue during the set, you’ll find it harder to use correct technique, which could cause a serious injury.