The Power

Why it’s okay to reach your limit

August 29, 2017

Why it’s okay to reach your limit

August 29, 2017

How do you know your limit if you have never reached it? How do you know your true strength if you always fall short of failure?

To fail is to let go of ego, openly acknowledge weakness and create the opportunity to improve in a way that would have never otherwise been possible. To fail is to become comfortable with being completely uncomfortable.

Failure is exciting. Of course, at the time it isn’t. It is challenging and often frustrating. However, once you acknowledge your limit, failure becomes empowering.

Failure, in regards to strength training, means repeating an exercise, like a push-up, to the point where you cannot complete another repetition. There is an ongoing argument in the world of strength training as to whether it is necessary to fail in order to improve your overall strength. And while this is an interesting argument, it can be complicated due to individual factors. So let’s leave that discussion for another day and instead focus our attention on the often overlooked mental benefits that can be gained through finding your edge.

As a trainer, I find the problem with many people is not that they don’t want to work until fatigue, but that they simply don’t understand how to. There aren’t many areas of our lives that we get pushed until we fail. And certainly not many areas where people would consider that a positive experience. Most people stop when self-doubt creeps in or when they feel uncomfortable.

When pushed, I find that more often than not people surprise themselves. By training to the point of physical failure, through discomfort, we can achieve far more than we ever imagined. This creates an understanding of true baseline strength. From this baseline, it is possible to develop an effective program and measure progress with a solid understanding of the starting point.

Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable also builds mental toughness. Mental toughness is defined as a combination of resilience and confidence. This combination means being able to perform or pursue a goal despite adversity or obstacles. If you have trained to failure before, fighting for every last repetition, you will know that it creates an internal battle where there is little room for self-doubt. Mental toughness is a skill that translates across other areas of life, moving well beyond the gym floor.

Lastly, working to failure teaches you that failure can be positive. Failure builds strength. Failure means you are committed enough to your development that you are willing to give it all. When I hit failure on an exercise, I get excited. It’s a clear indicator that I am working to my greatest potential. I know that if it was 17 push-ups today, in 6 months my failure point may be 32. That, for me, is a win.

Matt Fraser, Crossfit champion says that “cowards and champions have the same fears but the difference is how they attack them”. For some, the fear of failure can become debilitating. For others, they acknowledge it and use that fear to drive future development. Pushing your limit is always uncomfortable but it is always worth it. Because every time you break through that barrier of fear there is a better version of yourself waiting on the other side.

In the words of Susan Jeffers, author of “Feel The Fear & Do It Anyway”, “So commit! Commit yourself to pushing through the fear and becoming more than you are at the present moment. The you that could be absolutely colossal.”

5 tips for training to failure:

  1. Save it for days when your energy is high.
  2. Make sure to maintain good form.
  3. Avoid overtraining by only working until failure in the last set of an exercise or at the end of a workout.
  4. Have a buddy to spot you on the last few repetitions to keep your training session safe.
  5. Good breathing techniques can often help you nail those last few repetitions. Focus on diaphragmatic breathing to engage your deep core stabiliser muscles.

Go on. Give it your all.


Image by Drazen_/iStock

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