You Have Reached Muscular Failure...Now the Real Work Begins
Posted November 15, 2023 by Matthew Romans
New Total Results clients experience a learning curve when they begin their exercise journey at our facility. For over 90 percent of the people that walk through our door, the Total Results exercise philosophy is a completely new concept. We explain to them that the first several sessions are not about intensity of effort, but are more geared toward learning proper form, acquiring a feel for appropriate speed of movement, executing precise turnaround technique, breathing correctly, and also making sure that the settings in each machine fit their dimensions. Once these tasks have been addressed, we can then start to make the resistance more meaningful and work with a greater level of intensity. This will happen over the course of a few more sessions, since we want to maintain proper form while the weights become heavier. The purpose is to better prepare the client mentally and physically for the discomfort that accompanies great muscular effort. Through the client's hard work and the instructor's teaching, muscular failure and thorough inroad are achieved. Congratulations! Now the real work begins.
Arthur Jones once said that exercise begins at failure. This can be interpreted in multiple ways, but I take it to mean that reaching muscular failure and pushing (or pulling) for an additional five to ten seconds is the most effective part of each exercise because this is what the body interprets as an existential threat to its survival. This is the stimulus that we seek, and with enough time, nutritional resources, proper sleep and hydration, the body will make physical improvements. Yes, you can still make gains if you don't go to failure, but pushing until you cannot complete another repetition in good form is the only way to ensure you have given a maximum effort. We still do not know what the ideal percentage of effort is, but there are only two objective measurements: zero and 100 percent. Achieving muscular failure indicates that you have given every ounce of effort that is possible. I have talked about this before, but it can do a psychological number on you the first time you push with all of your might and the weight stack won't budge. Once you go through this a few times it becomes easier to deal with because you know what to expect. Keep a calm demeanor, realize that you are in a completely safe environment, and know that your instructor would never put you into an unsafe position. Muscular failure is uncomfortable, but it lasts only for a brief time.
As the old saying goes, it's easier to get to the top than it is to stay on top. Let's say that you have achieved your initial weight loss goal. That's awesome, but it's not time to rest on your laurels. I have seen many clients experience initial success, but then fall off the wagon. Don't subconsciously lose your hunger (so to speak) or let down your guard. Remember the mindset and focus that allowed you to achieve your initial success. The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare to win. You must bring a consistent level of focus and effort if you want to have sustained progress. The most successful long term Total Results clients find a way to accept the challenge. Rather than make excuses or complain about how demanding the workouts are, they understand how important exercise is in their lives and they shut out all of life's other distractions while they are here. You can always set new goals once you have achieved your initial objective. There are many things to accomplish in life, and being strong and well-conditioned is a great way to put your best foot forward as you go on your journey.
Your rate of progress will slow down as you become a more experienced trainee. This is due to the law of diminishing returns. It is perfectly normal to expect that you won't continue to add five pounds to the weight stack on every single workout. Most people see significant gains in strength in short order, but that is largely due to neural adaptation, or a learning effect. Once you start to train with significant effort, we will still continue to be progressive and add weight to the stack, but the increments will be smaller and added less frequently. The good news is that the gains at this point are due to adding muscle to your frame. If you continue to work hard during your sessions and do the necessary things between workouts, there is no reason that your progress can't continue for many years to come. Our two longest tenured Total Results clients have been with us for 20 years, and they still continue to get stronger.
Consistent great effort over time is what produces sustained results. Strive for excellence, not mediocrity. There is a cost for everything in life; you can either pay now (and reap the benefits of good health and functional independence) or you can pay later (by suffering from a loss of mobility and increased risk of chronic disease). Many things in life that are necessary are not fun - think mowing the grass, brushing your teeth, and cleaning the house. Remember, you don't have to love exercise, but you do need to see the value of it and be mentally tough and mature enough to do what needs to be done. Life doesn't stop, and neither should your commitment to exercise.