Podcast host and UFC commentator Joe Rogan follows a particular philosophy when it comes to working out. On one of the episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, he said he follows “the Pavel Tsatsouline protocol”. Tsatsouline is the Chairman of StrongFirst – a global provider of strength education – and a renowned fitness instructor. Rogan has been involved in strength training for decades and the techniques recommended by Tsatsouline are the ones he believes are optimal for building strength. And for evidence of their efficacy, you need only look at Rogan, who remains jacked in his 50s.
Rogan explains that his workout philosophy is all about developing functional strength, the kind of strength that gets us through life, making it easier for us to perform daily activities. He disavows the idea in strength training that you should train to failure, which is when you repeat an exercise to the point of temporary muscular failure. It’s doing repetitions of a movement until you simply can’t do anymore. The UFC commentator elaborates:
“…if I can do 10 reps of something, I never do 10. I do five.
If I'm doing something heavy. Like if I'm doing 90lbs clean press squats where I'm holding 90lbs over my head, I could probably do 10 of those but I'll only do four or maybe five.
I don't go to failure. I don't believe in going to failure. What I think you're best off doing is fewer repetitions but more often. So instead of doing one day where you blow your whole fucking system out and you do 'ONE MORE BRO, COME ON. ONE MORE!!' And then the next day you can barely walk.
I think, and this is what Pavel says, and this is what a company call StrongFirst recommends... there are a few people at the front of the line when it comes to what you would call functional fitness and functional strength. It's what Pavel calls 'greasing the groove,' which means to do it more often but not to failure.
So instead of having one workout every three days where you blow your body out, have one workout every day where you don't blow your body out. And you'll get stronger quicker.
There's no reason in nature why you would go to failure. Why would you go to failure in nature? You wouldn't!
How do animals and people and farmers get strong? Farmers don't get ridiculously fucking strong from going to failure every day. They get ridiculously strong from consistently taxing their bodies, moving bales of hay and picking up heavy things.
You do that consistently and you get stronger and stronger so that's mostly what I do.”
Training to failure might feel like you’re achieving the best level of strength but really you’re not. When you train to failure, you can’t function the next day. You become useless – not strong at all, in a functional sense. Maximum effort does not necessarily translate into optimal results. If you want to build strength effectively, then it’s important to train in a consistent manner, rather than absolutely wreck your body in the gym.
The Macho Approach to Working Out
For many men, training to failure is their way of boosting their masculine identity. When you’re putting your body through physical agony in the gym, it can make you feel macho and tough. You’re pushing yourself to your absolute physical limit, in a way that few others are willing to do. And it may seem obvious that the strongest men are those who are prepared to push themselves in this way.
However, if you are serious about strength training, and want to workout smarter, then you should resist a macho approach to working out. Chris Beardsley, an expert on strength training, notes that training to failure doesn’t really benefit muscle gains or being able to achieve maximum strength. It can also produce more muscle damage than not training to failure. Plus, “it reduces training frequency by increasing the time taken to recover from a workout, compared to avoiding failure”.
Male ego and hyper-masculine competitiveness are common in the world of weightlifting. Training to failure might seem like the manliest way to build strength and get jacked but it’s probably not the smartest way. Men who are serious about strength training would do well to listen to Rogan’s advice and focus on consistency and functionality instead.
About Sam Woolfe
I'm a freelance writer who is interested in mindfulness, mental health and the evolving concept of masculinity.
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