No-Failure 5 by 5 Bench Press – Build Power and Strength Phase

Today we are going to discuss a certain protocol in bench-pressing wherein we won’t strive to reach for failure, but instead we would just concentrate on racking up your numbers and increase your load capacity. In short, we will train your pecs like how the powerlifters do – and they don’t reach for failure because their goal is to just increase their strength and not to induce microtrauma to their muscle fibers – which is the most effective way to achieve sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (muscles getting bigger in layman’s term) and again that is NOT their goal; their only goal is gradual increase in load capacity and such is what we are going to adapt for now.

In About Lifting, we value the benefits of reaching “failure”. We know that the only way to succeed in crafting a beautiful, muscle-bound, physique is by means of


Failure in bodybuilding (or in resistance training in general) means going through the reps as long as you can, until such time that the muscle simply cannot lift the weight anymore; such is called “positive Failure”.

We even go one step further and work up to NEGATIVE failure. This is when you cannot even lower the weight under control. We do that by means of applying high intensity techniques such as: Negatives (a partner lifts the weight up for you when you reach positive failure and will let you handle the lowering part), Omnicontractions (as you lower the weight, you will try to raise it up again but you partner will block the bar, and you will do this in 3 parts of the way going down, thus toasting your pecs totally since you will be overloading the negative portion of your reps with ISOMETRIC contraction like a the type when you push against a wall), Inflitonic reps (this is when your partner pushes the bar down as you lower the weight thus OVERLOADING the negative portion of your rep) and with all of these you will NOT stop until your muscle can still handle the weight or until it can even contract – thus thorough and complete failure is reached.

These techniques lead to out of this world pump and indeed HEAVY DUTY (as per Mike Mentzer) and insane stimuli for muscular growth and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

But as effective as these techniques are for building raw size; these are not as effective in the field of gaining pure power. In effective strength training, they don’t as much overload their body with lactic acid and microtraumas as much as they overload their CNS with frequent bouts of lifting as much weight as they can.

But to be able to train more often and GREASE THE GROVE – which is very VERY important in the field of competitive power-lifting; they train just short of reaching failure in every rep. They always “leave something in tank” every rep. Thus they have much power until the next rep.

Now why are we doing this?

This is the same reason why we prescribe a long period of consolidated training, when a pure beginner will do NOTHING else but basic moves, like dips, bench press, squats and deadlifts. All that without doing any advanced moves at all (the ones we enumerated above). The reason for that is a lifter must first gain fundamental strength and physical foundations which he can just hone like a diamond in his more advanced stages if he chose the path of physique conditioning like bodybuilding; competitive or otherwise.

To put it more simply, a weight trainee needs to gain first raw, fundamental strength and frame. And the only way to do that is to increase one’s weight capacity like how a powerlifter who cares not about hypertrophy does.

Another reason: Periodization

Another reason is for an advanced lifter to experience periodization. A lifter will not progress in physique or strength if he trains the same way year in year out. He must regularly train using different weight schemes; rep schemes, etc (read this post, this is where I’ve discussed about periodization). One must shock his muscles (and even his diet) in order to experience faster results, so to speak.

Strength is not gained just by damaging muscle fibers – gradual increase in strength is not experienced by means of going to “failure” artistically. Building strength requires that you often load and tax your CNS and not much your body. You will only focus on the positive reps and not on the muscle damage.

It’s quite like training for explosiveness and the same goes with strength training that you will need to stop the reps when you are “losing the explosiveness” or when you cannot move with great acceleration or else you will not be training the “fast twitch” fibres anymore. Thus is the same principle whe training for strength, you will need to stop short of failure, and just load and condition your fast twitch fibers or at least train your slow twitch fibers to function more like fast twitch fibres.

Doing so will most likely convers some type 1 fibres into type 2a muscle fibres – which are bigger than type 1 fibres and are more capable of more forceful contractions (thus greater strength).

Thus we will do mostly 5 sets of five reps, 6 sets of 3 reps, or 7 sets, of doubles. NO FAILURE!

And for form, this is how you will bench – this form offers utmost support and force (that’s European Junior Championship, men 67.5kg, Niklas Jönson 190.5kg. Image credit: Köberich):

powerlifting bench press niklas jonson


By the way, Critical bench has a pretty good bench-pressing guide, visit their page HERE.

Imagine going to failure with your 3 rep MAX!? That is just crazy! And DANGEROUS!

So first, do 5x5s for a 2 weeks, then you can try triples or doubles – I wouldn’t recommend going to 1 rep max unless you can be watched over by a strength trainer who knows his shit. Note:Abide in the Ratio of volume over intensity over number of sets; such that when you increase the weight and lower the reps, then you must increase the number of sets to make up for the volume.

And anyways, strength training offers that kind of thickness and density that is very hard to achieve simply by training for “pump” and/or hypertrophy. Take it from those BARREL-CHESTED powerlifting dudes.

And I have mentioned before a colleague name Arturo, he’s a huge guy and same as the other power-lifters I know- he NEVER trained to failure. He doesn’t have those curves and leanness of a bodybuilder but that definitely proves that basic and fundamental strength training will yield size gains in no time, since as your body will adapt to hoisting increasing poundage it will also adapt by off course increasing your size since a high caliber cannon also needs a huge and stable base off support – that’s just how it works. Eat your eggs, people.

A-Lifter- Don't forget to leave your comment/feedback below.  If this article was helpful, I am sure our book Real Talk Muscle will help you even more in your quest for muscle gain. Check it out you can read the first few chapters as well.
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2 thoughts on “No-Failure 5 by 5 Bench Press – Build Power and Strength Phase

    1. Depends on what regimen you are doing.
      5 x 5 would require the 1 second tempos, no slow cadences for 5 by 5s

      but I would typically lift the possitive portion explosively then hold at top then descend the weight for at least 3 seconds

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