Last Rep, Best Rep: Should You Push for One More?

How important is it to get that last rep? Well, if your goal is to get better, stronger, more toned, and make progress, then that last rep is everything! This is where the growth and gains occur, so don’t sell yourself short by skimping on those last few tough repetitions.

What Is Muscle Failure?

When you lift weights, the goal is to lift heavy enough weight to challenge your muscles each time you work out. You’ll know when you reach muscle failure when you can no longer move the weight with perfect form.

Perfect form, however, is extremely important for a variety of reasons, including avoiding injury, creating better performance, and targeting the correct muscles. Once your form falters or you can no longer complete another full rep, you have technically reached muscle failure.

Is this a bad thing? Not at all. In fact, it’s important to use muscle failure to your advantage to make gains. Working up to failure and pushing yourself to get that last rep is how it happens.

Why Is that Last Rep So Important?

Think of all the other reps leading up to that last rep as basically a great extended warm-up. The “effective” reps—the ones where you get the most gains—are the last few reps. Since your body is such an amazingly adaptive machine, your muscles won’t grow unless challenged regularly.

But how do you keep them guessing and working? You push those last few reps. Your goal is to fight through and keep improving, little by little, over time. Remember, muscle failure is the sign of success you’re seeking!

How to Get that Last Rep

You may want to push through that last rep, but it’s not something you’ve ever done before, and the thought of it is daunting. So, how can you make that leap? There are some great tricks of the trade you can employ to help you eke out that elusive last rep. To avoid breaking perfect form, it’s time to engage in these tactics:

    1) Partials—doing “partials” is exactly as it sounds. Because you can’t get a full rep, you continue with partial reps until you reach complete muscle failure. This is how it looks: do as many full repetitions as you can. Once you can’t do another full rep, start doing half reps (or as far as you can go) until you again reach the point of failure.

    2) Forced Reps—these require a partner, coach, or spotter. Do as many reps as you can. Then, when you can’t perform another rep, have your partner help lift the weight slightly to complete your last rep. Or, better yet, have your partner help you complete a few more reps.

    3) Drop Sets—these are a tried-and-true way to get those last few reps in and get stronger in the process. Do as many as you can with your allotted weight. When you reach muscle failure and can’t do another rep with perfect form, drop the weight by 20 – 30%.

    Again, do as many reps as you can at this weight until you can’t complete another rep, and then drop the weight again by about 20 – 30%. Do as many reps as you can, and don’t forget to really push yourself on that last rep!

    4) Negatives—this type of movement helps you get stronger, so you can power through those last reps. Do the motion that’s opposite of when you’re lifting or pulling the weight. In other words, resist the weight as you slowly move back to the starting position. If you’re using this to get a last rep, help yourself get the weight to the midpoint, so you can perform the negative.

    5) Rest Pause—this is a great way to get stronger without adding a lot of weight. This is similar to a drop set, except you keep the same weight and rest in between mini sets. Start by performing as many reps as you can. Then rest for 30 seconds. Lift the same weight again as many times as possible, and then rest for another 30 seconds. Do three to four rounds.

Everything leads up to that last rep where the real progress begins. But, being smart about your workouts and listening to your body is also important to avoid injury and continue to improve. Just remember, progress is about being just a little better than you were the last time you worked the muscle. Progressively pushing yourself during each workout to get those last reps can make a huge difference in your results. It’s tough, but you’ve got this!