Should You Be Lifting To Failure Every Time?
And other questions answered by David Jack

March 13, 2015

Should I be lifting to failure every time?

Much like your car, your body will break down if you recline it too often. When you lift to failure during every exercise (as many guys tend to do), you increase not only your risk of injury but also your production of stress hormones and the time you’ll need for recovery.

Instead, schedule an occasional “reach day” or “reach week” when you lift to failure. Otherwise, leave a rep or two in the bank during each set. That way, you can maximize your gains without overtraining your muscles.

My shoulder hurts. Can I work around it?

Yes. Step one is eliminating common agitators such as the overhead press and bench press. Rotate them out of your routine for three to four weeks, replacing them with dumbbell and resistance band exercises, which place less load on the shoulders.

Next, add more upperback exercises to your routine and improve the tissue quality in your pecs by rolling with a tennis ball for 30 to 60 seconds before and after your workout. This will also help centre your shoulder joints and reduce muscular imbalances that lead to impingement and pain.

After a month, you’ll probably be able to start weaving back in the exercises you took out. But if you feel even the slightest bit of pain, give yourself more time.

What’s better—reps or timed sets?

Both belong in your workout. Reps focus primarily on strength and promote progress from week to week as you push yourself to become stronger. Do rep-based sets early in your routine with big-muscle moves like squats, deadlifts, presses, and pulls, giving yourself 60 to 90 seconds of rest between sets.

Timed sets (doing as many reps as possible in a given time period) jack up your heart rate and are ideal for metabolic circuits with body-weight or lightly loaded moves. Do these later in your workout, and regularly switch up your work-to-rest ratio (e.g. 40 seconds of work and 20 seconds of rest one day, 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest the next.)

What should I do on the days I don’t have time for the gym?

Do two- to three-minute blocks of body-weight exercises throughout the day. This is called chain training, and the activity doesn’t have to be strenuous; low to moderate intensity is the key.

You can focus on a single move, like a lunge to high-knee or a deep squat, or combine a few moves in a mini-circuit. Individual activity blocks might not feel that taxing, but the cumulative effect—busting stress, torching kilojules, and boosting mobility—can be profound.

How can I stay fit while traveling?

You need a workout to take anywhere and do anytime. Here’s one for the road: pushup (5 reps), squat (7 reps), and jumping jack (9 reps). Perform 5 sets of each exercise to complete 1 round. Do 2 or 3 rounds.

Sound easy? Here’s where it gets intense: I want you to hold the bottom of the pushup and the squat—and the “legs out” position of the jumping jack—for 4 seconds during the first rep of each set. This stop-and-go method will boost your metabolism and heart rate and increase your “time under tension”—which is essential for building muscle and gaining strength.

Want to take it up another notch? End each round with a 60-second rolling plank, alternately rotating up to your left and then your right.

I fatigue quickly when I lift. How do I keep my energy?

Start by stockpiling energy before you hit the gym. Eat a power-packed snack, like granola and fruit, with 250ml of water 30 to 45 minutes before your workout?