One of the biggest myths people believe is that going to failure is the only option for gains. A notion that is not only FALSE but can lead to injuries and form compromises. Fitness ads and social media videos always show us someone pumping out their last rep looking like they are about to explode. Sometimes it’s not even a video but a written post from someone talking about hitting one more rep or indulging in soreness. I can assure you that gains are possible without going all out or RPE ten the whole time.
Before going further, let’s talk about RPE or rating of perceived exertion. In simple terms, RPE means how hard you believe you’re pushing yourself during a specific exercise based on a 0 – 10 scale. 0 being little effort and 10 being maximum effort, but how does one properly do this? Take the scale and reverse it with the number of reps left in the tank, ex: RPE 9 would be one rep left. This way, it’s about the numbers rather than a feeling or perception.
Why use RPE?
Studies prove that working in various RPE allows you to go all out on days when you feel energized and back off on days you aren’t without compromising gains.
Rather than going into every workout, thinking it needs to max effort studies show that stopping 1 to 3 reps shy of failure provides the same stimulus. They claim this occurs due to the bodies ability to repair and grow new muscular tissue.
That said, this does not mean to hit RPE 5 every session and expect optimal growth. Instead aim to hit RPE 6/7 during deload weeks and 8 or above during training. If these numbers don’t make sense aim for 4 – 3 reps left on a deload week and 2 – 1 during the regular session. Don’t worry a post is in the works about deloading and its importance.
Tips for Optimal Gains
There is no secret formula to gain a lot of muscle without burning out. Yet a key factor is learning to listen to your body. Figure out when it’s time to go all out and time to bring the intensity down.
The formula I use is to go RPE 8 – 9 or one/ two reps left in the tank at the start of my training cycle. Since I run a four day split of the upper and lower body twice a week, the first two sessions are all out. The second two are a mixture of RPE 7 – 8 depending on how well I slept, energy levels going into the session. Not everyone has to abide by this cycle, but it’s a good starting point.
That said, another tip would be to hit major compound movements at a high RPE or leaving 2 reps in the tank. After, go to failure on the accessory movements to blast the specific muscles your training. Doing this will allow for a little ego lifting for those who need it and also keep the intensity high.
Other than these tips, I encourage you to try training without failure all the time and see if it works for you. For me, it’s amazing to crush a workout and still feel energized to do other things rather than running on E.
Hope you are having a good week!