Although no record of it exists in human history, the first incidence of training to failure likely occurred when a prehistoric man attempted to move a heavy rock without success. While such an activity may not fall in the category of organized training, the fact that it involved considerable resistance that needed to be moved by human muscle power does constitute a crude form of exercise, especially if it involved repeated attempts. Had the caveman been unable to dislodge the heavy rock from its location, that would have to be viewed as a "failure." Thus, a very ancient form of training to failure. The term itself, "training to failure," was popularized by Arthur Jones. an eccentric Florida-based entrepreneur best known for his dogmatic advocacy of high-intensity training methods, along with the invention of a series of unique training apparatus, including the Nautilus and Med-Ex exercise machines. But in reality, Jones wasn't the first to suggest that those involved in organized resistance training should train to muscular failure. That honor goes to a pioneer in exercise science named Thomas DeLorme. DeLorme was a U.S Army physician who had used weight training as a rehabilitative technique to overcome a weakness that he had from a childhood illness (rheumatic fever). In 1945, many American soldiers who returned from the war came back with various orthopedic injuries, which often involved a lengthy rehabilitation time. The sheer numbers of such G.I's that had these orthopedic problems was filling up hospitals across the country. The methods used to help heal these men were slow and ineffective.DeLorme, noting how effective weight training had been for him in terms of strengthening and building his muscle mass, reasoned that it would also likely produce similar results for the injured soldiers. So he designed a system of organized training that he called Progressive Resistance Exercise. This system involved doing 3 sets of 10 repetitions, with the proviso that weight must be increased with each set. The system was fully refined by 1948 and proved extremely successful in speeding the rehab of injured soldiers. Thanks largely to DeLorme's efforts, progressive resistance exercise became the standard of exercise to promote increased muscular size and strength, as well as for physical therapy purposes. In 1951, DeLorme published the first textbook on progressive weight-training, Progressive Resistance exercise: Technic and Medical Application, which became the standard medical text on the effects of weight-training for years, as well as forming the foundation for the current study of organized resistance training.
DeLorme's techniques were a radical departure from the usual medical advice at the time. For example, one 1923 medical text, in discussing the optimal way to exercise, suggested that exercise should never be done past the point of moderate fatigue, and if any resistance was used, it should consist of light weights. Interestingly, back then the emphasis was on pumping blood . . .