Exercise to Failure

Exercise To Failure

On occasion I get the question “how many and how much?”. You just joined a gym or started exercising at home, and haven’t a clue how many times you need to lift the weights.

There are many answers to that, and they all depend mainly on your goals. The general rule of thumb is that if you are trying to lose weight, then your range of reps are higher, and if you are trying to gain size, then your rep range is lower. These ranges vary around 4 to 8 reps, 8 to 12 reps and 12 to 15 reps. These are also affected by which body type you are. I won’t go into too much detail about the different muscle groups and the different rep ranges for different goal types, but I’d rather explain the psychological side of whatever exercise routine it is that you’re doing.


A quick definition of sets and repetitions:
Repetitions – How many times you lift the weight consecutively (makes one set).
Sets – A group of repetitions, with paused rest periods.


If you are lifting weights then you should start getting into the good habit of recording your efforts during your exercise. Always make a note on paper or using toys of technology how many kilograms you are lifting and how many times you are lifting it. What I do is I have a clip board that I clip my daily workout routine I drew up for the day on an A4 sheet of paper. On there I will have every exercise I’m doing and as I do each exercise I make note of what I was able to do regarding kilos and reps.

Now if you’re hoping to get continued results from your time exercising then here’s the key: Exercise to failure.

Whatever routine you are on, whether you downloaded it or put it together yourself, whichever rep range you are using, or how ever many sets you are doing, each set gets exercised to failure. Now what I mean by this is, if you are using a rep range of 12 to 15 repetitions for example, your 15’th rep should be almost impossible to do. If you are able to lift that specific weight over the 15 rep count then you need to increase the weight a little until you are back inside the rep range. Each week, when you get back to that same exercise, your objective is either trying to reach that last rep or increasing the weight to keep you within the range. This is why it is so important to keep a log of your workouts.

Here’s a working example:

Lets say I’m doing the squats, and I’m using a rep range of 12 to 15. Imagine I’ve never done squats before so I don’t have a clue how much weight I should put on the bar, my thought goes to my own body weight and wishing I’d be able to lift it. Now I may never have trained squats before so it may seem my expectations are high, so I decide to go a little lower than that. In this example I’m using 50 kg’s. Each exercise should be done with good form so make sure you have researched the proper form for the exercise. The first few rounds of your exercise routine will have a lot of trial and error. If you’ve just started out and don’t have a benchmark to work with, you’ll have to create the benchmark first.

First I would attempt to do the exercise with 50 kg’s and try to reach the 15 rep max. If I am able to reach the 15 rep mark, and being honest with myself, was able to push over the line, then I knew I needed to add more weight. The exercise of working out your benchmark is a powerful way of training smarter. With this, I would then raise the weight up to my own body weight and attempt to lift it to the 15 rep. I’m now using 60 kg’s. If I was then only able to lift it 8 times then it would be below the rep range I am currently working with. The weight is too much so dropping it down a little would be best. At a 55 kg resistance, perhaps I am able to push 12 or 13 reps. All these measurements I record onto my sheet on the clip board. The next time I attempt the same exercise, I can look back and see I was able to lift 55 kg’s 12 times, so now I need to try and lift it more than 12 times … until I eventually get that up to 15 reps. If you go over then you just carry on using the same formula.

If you keep doing the same thing, and never challenge yourself when you exercise, then I think you need to question why it is you are doing it. Make sure your reasons are true and you will be able to maintain a fitter and stronger lifestyle. Otherwise, your experience may not be a pleasant one, and eventually end up creating an undesirable environment you don’t look forward to.

On a more personal note, I feel like I wasted my time if I didn’t challenge myself each time I exercised. It would otherwise feel like a chore. Boring.

3 Responses to Exercise to Failure

  1. Bradley Rudman says:

    Hi José

    Pushing yourself generally results in muscle pain the next day, what would you suggest for this? No pain no gain? Or is there methods to reduce that next morning ache which do not involve harmful chemicals such as can be found in certain muscle repair formulaes? Is the way one eats the key?

    • admin says:

      You said it Bradley, no pain no gain. Staying hydrated and eating correctly will help your muscles repair quicker, but you can also assist that process by using a supplement called L-glutamine. It’s a natural amino acid and assists with immune system and recovery. I recommend anyone who trains to use it as you would require more of it. Other methods like warming up before, stretching afterwards and a nice hot bath, help circulate the blood in the muscles. Make sure that particular muscle group gets enough recovery before you torture it again ;) Thanks for your interest :D

  2. Frank says:

    No Pain, no gain. I think our body is a great machine that can heal and recover itself. We only have to listen to it and act accordingly and responsibly. Acting means give the right amount and quality of fuel and exercice, and the reasonable time to rest, recover and build lean muscle.

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