TIP#2.14 - 3 Steps To Full Muscular Failure

It is not always necessary to train to absolute muscular failure on every single set you perform in the gym in order to build muscle. What is important is that you make sure your muscles are challenged in every workout if you wish for continued change in body composition (bigger/ more muscle). The Challenge refers to the level of Intensity of the workout. There are many ways to challenge your muscles and make it more Intense for them, to solicit change - e.g. increase weight, increase volume, increase time under tension, decrease rest periods, use different exercise variations, decrease rep tempo, drop-sets, rest-pause sets plus other set structures. However, there are ways in which the muscles work that you absolutely must take advantage of for maximal muscle gain:

arnold muscle failure.jpg

1. Positive Failure

This is when the weight cannot be lifted up any more Concentrically. When training alone this will be the time the set stops, as no more movement of the weight can occur. This is the first part of the exercise that will fail and is anatomically the weakest of the 3 steps to full muscular failure.

2. Static Failure

This is when the weight cannot be held Isometrically any longer during the exercise, meaning held in one position without raising or lowering of the weight. Isometric holds can be included at any part of the rep or set but are generally included only after reaching positive failure and started from the apex/ top of the movement. This will be the second part of the exercise that will fail and is the second weakest of the 3 steps to full muscular failure.

3. Negative Failure

This is when the weight cannot be controlled in a slow manner during the lowering or Eccentric phase of the rep. The weight simply becomes too much to even ensure a slow decent to the bottom of the movement. Usually this principle is implemented after Isometric failure, and as the Isometric phase fails you will naturally start lowering the weight as a result, thus in turn failing Negatively as you try to prevent the weight from dropping. This is the third weakest or strongest of the 3 steps to full muscular failure and will fail last. These are called Forced Reps and must be performed with a partner. Perform 2-3 of these on the last 1-2 sets of each exercise. For more info on Forced Reps click here.

No matter how you choose to exert more Intensity onto your muscles, you must include these principles in your training if you wish for maximum muscle gains. For more Info on Optimal Training click here.


If you find that the order in which you fail is different to these 3 stages then you are performing the exercise wrongly. An example of this would be if someone used a weight that they could not perform even one perfect rep on but instead performed the exercise poorly by compensating hugely with other body parts, momentum or with help from a spotter. Then didn't have the strength to lower it in a slow and controlled manner but dropped it fast, then performed another rep with all the same help. In this example it may seem that the Negative portion failed before the Positive, but in reality the positive was not a true positive and failed before even one full rep could be performed. This is a biological reason why poor form doesn't build maximal muscle.

Thanks so much for reading!

Matt The Trainer

Personal Trainer London

#training #musclegrowth


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