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.
Before reading the science on why Maxing out works… Check check out the type of results people are getting from MAXing out in their 30 minute workout, 5 times a week, and in only 60 days!
Krista Says It's Better Than Hour Long Gym Workouts! She Lost 19.5 lbs
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Turning it up to 11
Anaerobic activity (including interval and weight training) is designed around the body’s failure point in one of the aforementioned energy systems. In resistance training, this is represented by the amount of weight needed to fail at a given number of reps. In the case of cardiovascular workouts—most often interval training—this is represented by the use of body weight, speed, jumping and stopping to achieve failure.
“Training, philosophically, is about putting your body in environments that it’s not entirely adapted to,” says Dr. Marcus Elliott, Founder and Director of P3, a facility that applies scientific research to athletic performance. “Training to failure suggests taking your body as far as it can go. That is what your body responds to: being challenged.”
In addition to muscle adaptation,” says Elliott, “you also increase adaptive response to lactic acid,” the chemical that builds up in overworked muscles, creating that burning feeling. “When you take a workout to failure, you can become more efficient at utilizing lactate (lactic acid) as energy.”
Adapting to lactate means that, instead of gasping and vomiting during intense exercise, you breathe more easily. You also develop blood buffers, which help maintain a healthy blood pH and prevent nausea. “How that shows up in terms of fitness is if you’re climbing or on a run and the guy next to you is suffering and you’re not” explains Elliott.
Fail, recover, repeat
A vital component here is rest (also known as recovery). The harder the workout, the more muscle fiber and neuron groupings—known as motor units—are recruited. Outside of long-distance running, most workouts target the moderate and high motor units. The more those units are recruited, the more recovery is required.
“This is why almost all training is broken into microcycles (weekly training schedule) and macrocycles (longer schedules) so that your recovery is properly balanced between your training,” says Edwards. That explains why weight training is staggered by muscle group and why very intensive training (plyometrics, et al) is done only once per week.
Edwards says there was a time when professionals were afraid to use programs like high intensity interval training (HIIT) with out-of-shape subjects. “This started changing in the early ’90s as studies began on highly deconditioned people and saw them respond much quicker to HIIT than traditional low-level aerobic work.” That means the only people to whom maxing out doesn’t apply are those with an injury or physical limitation that might prohibit it. Otherwise, everyone can get quicker results by Maxing Out!
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Before I began INSANITY MAX:30, I was very depressed. I thought that food was the only thing that could take my pain away. I would look in the mirror and feel hopeless. I knew that I could make changes if I really wanted to put forth the effort, but I wasn’t sure if I could keep it up on my own. I was stuck in the perfectionist cycle where I would want to do it perfectly by having all the right foods ready before I started and would need to start on a Monday. If I thought I might have to miss a workout day during the week or had an event that would make it hard to eat, well, then I should wait and start next Monday. Well, that perfect Monday never came!
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I started on the very next Monday and knew that perfectionism was my nemesis. I decided that I knew I wasn’t going to be perfect, but I would do my best every day and that it didn’t need to look perfect.
The greatest challenge I faced before beginning the program was my perfectionism and fear that I would never match the image I had in my head of my best self. In the past, I would get frustrated and feel hopeless when changes weren’t happening fast enough.
It might sound a little cheesy and simple, but the phrases that I heard over and over in the Beachbody programs, “Just hit play” and “Do what you can, this is your body,” are what continually played in my head when the alarm went off in the morning. I stopped thinking that if I couldn’t do it perfectly then it wasn’t beneficial and a waste of my time. It is not a waste of your time!
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