For packing-on the most quality muscle in the shortest period of time, I suggest that you strive to perform 4 to 6 repetitions during every set. If you can do more than six reps during a particular set, then you have picked a weight that is too light. Conversely, if you are not able to properly perform four repetitions, the weight you’ve chosen is too heavy. I am really big into the mental factors that contribute to your performance in the gym. Your mind is your most valuable training tool. This is the way I see things: The less time you are forced to focus and concentrate during each set, the better your focus and concentration will be. That’s why I aim for only 4 to 6 repetitions per set. It’s easier for me to train at a higher level of intensity.
The sole purpose of lifting weights is to build muscle—period! The only way you can build muscle is by overloading the muscle or, in other words, working the muscle until absolute failure. You can work the muscle until absolute failure with weight that you’d consider lighter rather than heavier. The only stipulation when using lighter weight is that you do enough reps to truly work the muscle until absolute failure. It’s my belief that, the longer period of time it takes you to actually reach absolute failure, the more likely your focus will fail before your muscles. This explains why, using the heaviest weight humanly possible within the 4 to 6 repetition range is the most efficient way to train.
Different bodybuilders, all of whom may be considered successful in their training efforts, seem to have differing philosophies on this matter. Some people say you should do 12 to 15 reps during each set while others insist 8 to 10 is the proper amount. Who knows what could happen to break your concentration during a set with 15 reps that takes about 20 to 25 seconds to complete? A stressful personal problem might come to mind, a pretty girl might cross your path, a fly might land on your nose, or a fire might break out in the back area of the gym and ruin your focus. Now, I don’t know that these examples will ever happen to you, but I think you know what I’m trying to emphasize here.
Absolute failure basically means you don’t stop pumping-out repetitions during a particular set until all of your energy is used. In order to achieve absolute failure, you must keep on doing reps until your muscles literally fail, or feel like they’ve turned into a “wobbly pile of jelly.” You fail at the end of the set because you’ve given that set every ounce of energy. If you truly work the set until absolute failure, you shouldn’t even squeeze out a ½ or even a ¼ of a rep more.
Absolute failure is an awesome feeling when training and one you should learn to enjoy. Training every set with this end goal in mind gives you that sense of satisfaction deep inside. Working every set until you simply can’t do any more reps gives you the confidence that you are using all of your energy to reach your ambitious bodybuilding goals. Training to absolute failure is an indicator that you’re seizing the moment and taking control of your training destiny.
Stringing together a series of sets in which you achieve absolute failure leads to an extremely intense training session. When you complete a training session in which every single set was pushed to such a limit, you know in your soul that you’re in the high-performance training zone. Consistent training at this level of productivity leads to weeks, months, and even years of progressive muscular development.
So, do you ever know for sure that you are truly reaching absolute failure? Truthfully, the correct answer is that you probably will never know for sure. Absolute failure is a goal that is designed to always be slightly out-of-reach. Even if you think you may have reached absolute failure, you should never become satisfied. There is always a higher level to achieve. Once you’ve achieved a certain number of reps as the most you’ve ever done, you must establish that number of reps as your standard. This number must become the minimum amount you’re now determined to do every time. Hey, you’ve done it once—so you should be able to do it again on a consistent basis, shouldn’t you?
Absolute failure is a mental accomplishment just as much as it is a physical one. Re-define what absolute failure means to you. Your focus determines what you achieve from your training efforts. The most important goal of every set is to work it until absolute failure. I’ve implemented a particular mental strategy that helps me focus on what I want to accomplish. Before every set, I’ve made the habit of saying to myself, “I will re-define what absolute failure means to me on this set!”
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