You don’t hear much about “Beyond Failure” Training anymore. That’s mostly because both its creator, Trevor Smith, and its highest profile acolyte, Mat DuVall, died young. In the early years of this decade, BFT was an “underground” sensation in the vein of Doggcrapp, bandied about on bodybuilding message boards and frequently oversold as the secret to unlimited muscle growth. Largely, this was because of Smith himself, who weighed more than 400 pounds and was celebrated for his phenomenal strength. We’re going to cut through the hyperbole to detail what Beyond Failure can and cannot do for your bodybuilding workouts.
“First and foremost, it is imperative to understand that the body is capable of a lot more than we tend to give it credit for. Somewhere along the line in the past few years people have been screaming ‘overtraining’ to the point of making me want to vomit,” wrote Smith on a bodybuilding forum in 2000 as an introduction to his program. He brought both a science degree and the pain-defeating discipline that earned him a fourth-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu to Beyond Failure Training. In a nutshell, BFT is a high-intensity, low-volume system for pushing sets far beyond full-rep failure with forced reps and dropsets. As Smith made abundantly clear, its principal component is pain. You need to be willing to complete the majority of your reps when your muscles are ordering you to stop.
This is how a typical BFT set goes. Let’s say you begin an exercise with 200 pounds, with which you reach failure at 8–10 reps. Your training partner then assists you with 6-8 forced reps. Immediately after, the weight is reduced by 30-40%, and you get as many full reps with 120–130 as you can. Having just reached failure and then gone beyond with forced reps, you’ll probably get only 3–5 reps with this much-lighter weight before reaching failure again. Your partner then assists with another 6–8 forced reps. After that, repeat. The weight is reduced by 30–40%, you hit failure with the 70-90 pounds, probably getting 3–5 reps, and your partner then assists with another 6–8 excruciating forced reps. That extended set consisted of six subsets, and you’ve racked up a total of 33–44 reps. The key is that virtually all those reps, beyond the first six or so, were at or near failure points.
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