I wrote about training to muscular failure in the May 2015 issue of Applied Metabolics, and that article covered all the available research at the time related to training to failure. I also discussed the history of training to failure, and how the principle first came about. So why am I writing this update about training to failure? In the intervening four years since that first article was published, some new research has appeared that further clarifies the most effective ways to employ training to failure, and I felt that it justified an update. One reason for this is that I personally used this training principle extensively as a competitive bodybuilder, and also knew many of the leading advocates of this style of training. This included such people as Arthur Jones, the eccentric inventor of the Nautilus exercise machines who often somewhat dogmatically stated that training to failure was the only sensible way to train for anyone interested in making rapid gains in muscular size and strength. His acolytes were the Mentzer brothers, Mike and Ray, both of whom I knew well. Mike was originally from Pennsylvania and had trained in the usual high volume style that was popular back then. But then he met another teenage bodybuilder, Casey Viator, who was a teenage sensation at the time. Viator won nearly all the "best body part" awards when he competed at age 18 in the 1970 Mr.America contest, and when on to be the youngest man ever to win the title a year later. Casey and Mike became friends, and Mike was influenced by Casey to change his style of training from low intensity, high volume style to high intensity, low volume style that featured doing every exercise to muscular failure.
Training to failure proved successful for Mentzer, as he won the 1976 Mr.America title and the 1978 Mr.Universe contest in Acapulco, Mexico becoming the first-ever bodybuilder to win the contest with a perfect score of 300. Mentzer idolized Arthur Jones, and even once grandiosely referred to him as "God." When he later gave seminars, Mike even adopted the unique speaking style of Jones, which was composed of half speech, half growl. Jones had introduced his Nautilus exercise machines at the 1970 AAU Mr.America contest held in Culver City, California. I attended that contest, and recall seeing the unusual machines in the lobby of the auditorium where the contest was held. Thanks to a series of articles that he wrote for Ironman magazine in the early 70s, the popularity of the Nautilus machines burgeoned. But a key aspect of training on the machines was to train hard, but not long; that is, the training volume consisted of only one or two sets per exercise, done to complete muscular failure. Jones frequently noted that unless you trained to complete muscular failure, you were not properly using the machines, and therefore could not reap the tremendous gains . . .