Time and time again I coach men who believe they need to go hard or go home. If they aren't dying or taking every set to failure then they aren't making progress. It is the old adage they got from high school coaches, and their parents but it is time for it to hit the hay.
Fact: You don’t always have to train balls-to-the-wall to see results.
When I was in college I was subscribed to Flex magazine and Muscular Development. I still have them all boxed up and I even framed some of my favorite covers and placed them in the basement. I recall countless articles urging lifters to take every set to failure. Some of my favorite bodybuilders used to say they took every set to failure. In fact, various high intensity training (HIT) articles claim that the last rep of the set was the only rep that mattered. Stopping short would only maintain size and strength. But when you take it to that last grueling rep you would cause the body to make adaptations. Which meant the body would accommodate those adaptations by gaining muscle and improve strength.
Guess what? I've had many conversations with professional bodybuilders and that is not how they train.
Since the 90's several peer-reviewed studies emerged showing that training to failure was not mandatory for results, nor was it better than stopping shy of failure.
This is where the general public can learn from powerlifters. Powerlifting programs take advantage of lighter loads and reduced efforts in order to allow for high training volumes and frequencies. Not every single set is taken to failure. This means that they have found ways to get more quality sets in a workout and do similar exercises more than once per week.
There are times where a set can be taken to failure. There is a major difference in taking a set of bicep curls to failure versus a set of heavy squats. It takes most lifters many years to understand how to regulate their effort and manage their fatigue. I've seen many men never get it. They get injured and blame it on something else. It's an old high school injury that flared up. No, it was plain stupidity in thinking that you should try for a new one rep max. Once lifters reach this level of mastery, training tends reach new levels and gains are made.
You don’t have to train balls-to-the-wall every session. You don’t even need to go all out every single week to make progress. You’ll likely experience better results by performing a considerable amount of training in the 70-85% range of your one rep max and keep some reps in the tank.
Please don’t just stubbornly grind through an exercise if it doesn’t feel right. This rarely leads to good outcomes. Strength training isn’t rocket science, but it’s not linear either. Due to the various nature of human physiology we can't completely predict the response all the time. Even when all the variables are controlled. That is why having someone educated helps.
You must pay attention to biofeedback and experiment to figure out what works best for your body. You must adhere to a proper routine to give yourself the best chance of succeeding and making progress. Don't fail at making wise decisions during the other 23 hours when you’re not in the gym.