The Importance of Failure

The word “failure” ordinarily has a very negative association. Nobody wants to fail. But when it comes to your physical fitness, failure should be more than a word – it should be your policy, something that you live by from day to day. Confused? Read on.

In the world of fitness, “failure” has a slightly different meaning, and a very different connotation. To perform an exercise “to failure” means to do the exercise until you can’t sustain the activity anymore. For instance, if you make it to twenty pushups and your body just can’t do any more reps, then you’ve done the exercise to failure. 

This is actually a very good thing, and something that you really want to integrate into your fitness life – but use caution. Keep in mind that doing exercises to failure does NOT mean pushing yourself farther than you’re actually capable of going, or working out to the point of pain. When you get to the point of failure, your body will let you know. Sweating, shaking limbs, and really weird facial expressions are common signs that failure is not far away.

If your face looks like this, it's probably time to stop.
If your face looks like this, it’s probably time to stop.

Failure is critical to muscle growth – the act of overloading a muscle creates numerous micro-tears in the muscle, which will grow back bigger as those tears heal and repair themselves. 

Training your muscles to failure can be very useful, but it’s by no means “the way”. What I personally advise you to do, especially if you’re a beginner, is to take two days every week and, in addition to your normal routine, perform work one muscle group to failure. Test yourself first; if you know for a fact that you can do a certain number of reps in a row, try to push that number, and see if you can do more. Also, make sure to give yourself about a 48 hour period before working this muscle group again; you don’t want to overdo it. 

Exercising this way does more than just build muscle – it builds real-world strength. After adding a couple days of failure training into your weekly routine, you’ll start to notice your overall strength and stamina improving, and you’ll really be able to squeeze a lot more out of your ordinary, fifteen-minute routines. 

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