Saturday, June 11, 2022

Failure is Failure

After writing this – kind of – review of The P:E Diet I decided, somewhat against my better judgement to try the training advice given in the book; which, if you recall, is train to concentric, eccentric and isometric failure on every repetition and every set (3 sets of around 5 reps) every day of the week. If that sounds exhausting, painful, and antithetical to progress, it absolutely is.

I am no stranger to training to failure as, over the years, I have done multiple cycles of Stronglifts which is essentially a programme of training to failure three times per week. Recovery from training to failure takes a long time, longer as you get older, so I knew that training to failure every day was not going to work so I opted for a two week cycle training to failure three times per week, on top of my usual three climbing days per week – during which I typically climb to failure. That is a lot of failure, but luckily, I am quite good at failing, so was not too worried about this aspect of the experiment. Indeed, I can say that, over the two weeks of the venture, I excelled at failing.

Sadly, I did not excel at much else unless being stiff and sore all day everyday is success. After initially getting a little stronger, the number of repetitions I could do plummeted and no amount of yoga, sleep, easy walks, stretching, nutritious meals or any other standard recovery techniques made much difference. I was just beaten up.

Interestingly, most of the research (here is an example) comparing training to failure to more standard strength and power training - whereby the lifter trains to within 2 to 4 repetitions of failure on the last set - does not support training to failure. Not only do the trainees incur more fatigue and muscle soreness but strength gains are less. It seems there is little place for training to failure for most people, and certainly beginners and novices have nothing to gain and much to lose from this form of training. My experiment is over and I do not foresee myself ever returning to training to failure. I am actually at a loss to understand why the book (The P:E Diet) so clearly and elegantly nails the nutrition aspect of being a healthy human yet fails so dismally at the exercise/movement aspect.

Pictures are from today’s walk along the coastal track near my house.

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