“Give me twenty push-ups,” a trainer says after glancing at her clipboard and seeing her client’s target number of reps.
“Okay Coach.” With a lot of wincing, grunting, and shaking, he manages to get to twenty. At nineteen reps, his technique has fallen apart–head drooping, hips touching the floor.
What is the benefit of this approach for the average fitness client (not bodybuilders and power lifters)? Probably very little.
Pavel Tsatsouline wrote, “Muscle failure is more than unnecessary—it is counterproductive! Neuroscientists have known for half a century that if you stimulate a neural pathway, say the bench press groove, and the outcome is positive, future benching will be easier, thanks to the so-called Hebbian rule. The groove has been ‘greased’. Next time the same amount of mental effort will result in a heavier bench.”
The keyword is “positive.” Getting to eighteen push-ups with good technique and without muscle failure will make it easier, not harder, to make improvements in the future.
Listen to your body. Stop when you still have a couple of reps left in the tank. Stop when you hit the ‘yellow light’ of fatigue. In fact, don’t even worry about the number of reps.