Regardless of your fitness goals, the surest way to success is, ironically, failure.
That’s what research in recent years has revealed about the relationship between reps and results, which progress in sync with one another.
Momentary muscular fatigue—also known as training until failure or “maxing out”—simply demands performing movements until you can’t do them anymore. Rather than setting an arbitrary ceiling for yourself and hoping to, again arbitrarily, increase that ceiling over time, maxing out uses your body’s current capabilities to decide the variables (weight, reps, etc.), whether it’s high-intensity cardio, weight training or any combination of the two.
Once that ceiling is reached, you achieve failure, with the gains coming in the form of your body’s ability to go just a bit further the next time. “If you never fail at a set, you aren’t pushing hard enough,” says Steve Edwards, Vice President of Fitness and Nutrition at Beachbody.
But beyond a red-blooded sense of accomplishment, why is it important to press the limits? Edwards says, “Pushing towards failure is the only way to derive all of the benefits of a workout as it’s designed.” Most workouts, Edwards says, target energy systems, which, to be simplistic, are the physiological processes that facilitate the conversion of fuel into fitness. To make these systems more efficient—which is the very definition of fitness—Edwards says you’ve gotta fail.