Friday, November 13, 2009


Originally posted on on August 3, 1999

Reprinted with permission of The Iron Master

This is one of the most argued about topics in strength training and the answer is not the same for everyone. Of course, you must train in a moderate to high rep range to make one set to failure work as low reps require a lot more warm-up sets. With classic one set to failure training, usually two, (or just a few), warm-up sets are done to start the workout. One for the major upper body exercise, (e.g. bench press), and one for the major lower body exercise, (e.g. the deadlift). Then you blast through the workout with all the training weights pre set with little or NO rest.)

If you TRULY TRAIN TO MUSCULAR FAILURE, then one set to failure works and is all you need. The problem is that many people, if not most, do not really go ALL OUT and don't understand what true muscular failure is. They think that they are going all out to failure, but they end the set. ONE SET TO FAILURE IS NOT ENOUGH IF YOU GO ALMOST ALL OUT!

One set to failure is not fun. It is brutal and UNCOMFORTABLE. I guarantee you that if you let Dr. Ken put you through a ONE SET TO FAILURE workout, you will not be smiling at the end of it, and you will not want to train any more either, for several days. Many people who claim to have tried one set to failure have only given it a 90 percent effort and then claim that it does not work. They have no clue. ONE SET TO FAILURE DEFINITELY WORKS, BUT YOU HAVE TO WORK YOUR ASS OFF TO MAKE IT WORK. It is sort of a reward for your efforts. You can actually get bigger and stronger than you have EVER been in your life, with only two fifteen minute workouts a week, IF (and that's a big if) YOU TRULY GO ALL OUT. MOST PEOPLE DON'T.
It all boil's down to this. THE HARDER YOU ARE WILLING TO WORK, THE LESS SETS YOU HAVE TO DO. PERIOD. Sometimes it takes several months of training before someone LEARNS HOW TO GIVE 100% and REALLY GO TO FAILURE. But some people NEVER LEARN, partly because they really don't want to do it, and are not willing to endure the pain it takes to make it work. For these people, multiple sets are better because they are not training HARD ENOUGH to make one set work.

People are always asking Drew Israel how much time he trains per week and when he gives them the answer, they frequently refuse to believe him. Drew usually trains, "30 minutes tops" PER WEEK! (Exactly as I described in the opening paragraph, including warm-up sets.) He trains to true failure and is on the floor at the end of the workout. Most people are not willing to train like this and probably would do better with two or three sets per exercise If you are willing to do what it takes, however, one set is a great thing.


Sometimes, especially for off season athletes, I want them to do multiple sets to failure (two or three) because I don't just want to build muscle and strength, but also STAMINA too. My goal is to train them even harder than they will be trained later when they report to their camp. I want them prepared. I don't want them to run out of gas after 30 minutes or less. It usually takes around 3 weeks to get through my one hour multiple sets to failure workout without feeling sick. THE HUMAN BODY CAN ONLY TAKE SO MUCH. But it's not just the strength factor I am concerned with, but the overall body stamina factor as well. To be able to stay on your feet for the whole hour workout is brutal. If you go down, you still try to get back up and finish the workout.

If you do multiple sets to failure, then you must be careful not to OVERTRAIN. This is where THE ART PART comes in and you use your instincts with variety in the volume.


You burn a lot less calories with one set to failure so you may have to put more emphasis on your cardiovascular training to keep your body fat down. Keep this in mind if you do one set to failure and the weight keeps piling on. You will build a lot of muscle and get stronger and stronger but you will be burning a lot less calories and may need to do extra cardio training to make up for this. One set to failure does work and will get you as big and as strong as you can possible get. It is a great thing and is so good it can almost make you feel guilty because it takes so little time. Me and Drew joke about this all the time. But its BRUTAL and not easy. This works ONLY for those who do it right. Remember, the harder you work, the less sets you have to do.

*** Editors Note: As long as you train Progessively (ie poundage progression), you will get good results. Going to failure is secondary to poundage progression but is a good method to make your workouts more intense. Going to failure is also the most time efficient way to train. The harder you are willing to work, the less sets you have to do and the less time it will take for you to train.
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