March 13 “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." -Chinese Proverb
Last summer, we at StrongerAthletes.com got together with an Olympic lifting advocate coach, a believer that it requires more than one set to failure to trigger the necessary strength and growth. He agreed along with another coach to try the StrongerAthletes.com program, which requires that the athlete train all working sets to failure after a warmup set only on certain exercises.
We added one twist to the program to accommodate him in that he wanted to do 2 sets to failure. (It is important to note that both of us have been training before this workout session.) We had told them that if you cannot perform more reps at the same weight on the second set then that second set is not necessary because you should be fully exhausted after training in an all-out-manner to complete muscular failure on the first set.
We started with the bench press training in pairs. We made it clear that we should choose a weight in which we will fail in the 6-10 rep range. The opposing,(non-believer), coach did his set at a certain weight to failure which was 10 reps with two forced reps. (A forced rep is one in which the spotter assists the lifter to complete more reps.)
One of us went second and trained at a certain weight and failed at 9 reps along with 2 forced reps. He then said, "O.K., lets do another set with the same weight," and he said that he could perform more or at least the same amount of reps as the previous set. (Which is a standard practice in many training programs.) He ended up doing 9 reps.
Then I went next at the same weight as my previous set and I warned him to make sure he spotted me well. I could barely control the bar on the way down and could not perform 1 repetition.
Now, he tried to claim I did not try to lift the weight in order to prove my point. However, it was obvious I was putting forth the necessary effort. Similar things happened throughout the entire training session.
Now lets analyze why this happened. Well, I had been adapted to training that way for many years and was at an advanced level. I put forth an all-out-effort in as little time as possible (one set). In other words I knew how to work to failure. He had been accustomed to doing 3-4 sets per exercise sometimes reaching "failure" on more than one set on the same exercise usually reducing the weight on the second set to failure. On his set first set he did reach failure but apparently he did not put forth the effort especially at the end of the set that I did. He really did not know what true intensity was. (This is not a knock against him or another multi-set lifter. Rather, this level of INTENSITY is more than a catch phrase. It must be coached!)
He also did not do equal to or more reps with that same weight like he thought he could. If you are training to failure on any set, you should not be able to do that anyway. I just tried to merely tell him that it can be done in one set as evidence by my set and as well as the athletes that StrongerAthletes.com had been training.
The advanced athletes we train progress almost every time doing one set to failure and when they do not increase in reps or weight we make adjustments and progress does continue the next training session.
This is just another example that proves intensity must be learned first in order to train with one set to failure. This makes the workout more efficient and productive. Efficiency means training the least amount of time as long as the progress is there. This will allow more time for other things in the athletes life as well working on sport specific skills.