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Fail No Fail (FNF) Program Overview

This 4-week program has you training to failure intelligently to make sure you... do... not... fail... to get bigger, stronger, and leaner.

Fail No Fail (FNF) Program

Training to failure is a variable that few people consciously program into their workouts. Defined as the point at which you can no longer continue a given set with proper form due to your muscles “failing” (or fatiguing), training to failure is a concept that’s often given a universal prescription – always train to failure, or never train to failure.

It’s not that simple, at least not if you want to maximize your gains in muscle size, strength, and fat loss. Muscle failure should be manipulated like any other training variable in your program (sets, reps, resistance, exercise selection, etc.).

That’s the premise of my 4-week Fail No Fail Program (FNF for short). Using a 5-day body-part split, you’ll systematically train to failure (and sometimes not train to failure) with different weight, set, and rep schemes to get bigger, stronger, and leaner.

Pardon the play on words, but my FNF program won’t fail to deliver results!

What it Means to Train to Failure

Before we get into the specifics of the FNF program, I want to explain what constitutes training to failure.

When you take a set to failure, it means reaching the point where you physically can’t perform one more rep with proper form. To put it another way, it’s when you have to compromise your technique or “cheat” the weight up due to the temporary fatigue in the muscle. After you take a rest, of course, you’ll be able to do more reps again with that weight, but on that one set you literally couldn’t have done another rep properly. That’s training to failure.

Some people think failure involves not being able to move the weight at all – say, you only get the weight halfway up on rep #8 of a given set, and it won’t budge any further. If you maintained proper form up to and including that rep, you’ve reached failure. But if your form broke down or you had to cheat on reps #6 or #7, you should’ve stopped sooner.

When you’re training, make your best judgment. If you think you could possibly do another rep on a set (even though your muscles are burning), but you’re not sure, give it a try. Maybe you’ll squeeze out that last rep, or maybe you’ll fail midway through it. Of course, it somewhat depends on the exercise. Failing in the middle of a rep on lat pulldowns or biceps curls is different (safer) than failing mid-set on barbell squats.

In other words, be smart about when to try and get that last rep if you’re unsure. And when doing a barbell squat or barbell bench press, make sure you either have a spotter or have the safety pins set up in a power rack (or both) in case you fully fail in the middle of a rep. Just remember that, when it comes to training to failure, never compromise your technique to get more reps. 

One more thing: You'll notice in the FNF program that some sets are not supposed to be taken to failure – namely, the first four sets of 5 reps for each muscle group. When I say a set of 5 reps should not be taken to failure, I mean that you do the 5th rep and are physically able to do another rep or two (or three) with good form, but you stop at 5. You leave "reps in the tank," so to speak. Just don't leave too many reps in the tank; if rep #5 was so easy that you know you could have done 5-10 more reps, the weight is too light. 

Different Approaches to Training to Failure

Let’s talk about a couple of main ways to manipulate the “training to failure” variable.

In my popular Shortcut to Size program, you take ALL sets to failure and keep the weight the same on all sets. However, you only have to hit the prescribed rep range on the first set, since your muscles will be fatigued on later sets and likely not able to complete the same number of reps as when they were fresh.

In 5, 3, 2 Strength, very few sets are taken to failure. For example, in the first five weeks, when using a 5x5 set/rep scheme (five sets of five reps on each main lift), you use the same weight on all sets and must complete all 5 reps on all 5 sets. This basically means that you can only take the very last set to failure; if you went to failure on the first set at 5 reps, you wouldn’t be able to hit that many reps on subsequent sets.

These are two very different methods of completing reps and sets and training to muscle failure, and the programs produce different outcomes.

Shortcut to Size is a classic muscle-building routine, which is why all sets are taken to failure. The science is clear that training to failure is imperative for maximizing muscle growth. Going to failure (and even training past failure with techniques like drop sets and rest-pauses) causes biochemical changes in the muscle cells that signal increases in critical anabolic hormones and growth factors, such as growth hormone (GH), testosterone, and insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I). If you want to pack on muscle, you’ve got to go to failure.

To maximize muscular strength, training to failure should not be done on all sets. This is precisely why 5, 3, 2 – a pure strength-focused program – has you going to failure on very few sets.  

Enter the FNF program, which utilizes both of the aforementioned failure methods, plus a combination of the two, on every muscle group to deliver both strength and muscle mass gains. As an added bonus, FNF also burns body fat due to the intensity and resulting hormonal environment created by training to failure, as well as the metabolic and testosterone-boosting effects of heavy training.  

Fail No Fail (FNF) Overview

Two muscle groups are trained in each of five weekly workouts throughout the 4-week FNF plan (see FNF Training Split below). Each muscle group will be exposed to three different weight/set/rep/failure schemes in every workout, as follows…

Exercise #1 – Strength

5 sets x 5 reps | hit reps on all sets | only the last set taken to failure

The first exercise for each muscle group will be done in the same 5x5 fashion as the 5, 3, 2 Strength example referenced above. Use the same weight on all sets, and make sure you hit 5 reps on all sets. To accomplish this, you’ll only go to failure on the last (fifth) set. 

Once you hit failure on this final set, immediately decrease the weight by 20%-30% and do one drop set (taking the drop set to failure, of course).

When selecting a weight, you’ll need to go lighter than your 5-rep max (5RM). If in doubt, I suggest you go lighter than heavier. If you end up going too light and can do more than 5 reps on the last set, do as many reps as it takes to reach muscle failure, plus the prescribed drop set. The next week, add 5-10 more pounds on that exercise. Overall, this is a better method than going too heavy and not being able to complete all 5 reps on all 5 sets. 

For the best strength gains, rest 2 minutes between sets. If you want a quicker workout, feel free to shorten rest to 1 minute between sets. Whatever you decide, just make sure to keep the rest the same between all five sets.

This portion of the workout serves the goal of maximizing strength.

Progress Goal: Your goal is to increase the weight you use by the end of 4 weeks.

*Training Note: For abs, I programmed the hanging leg raise as a challenge for those who can't do 25 reps on hanging leg raises. Unlike the other exercises in the program you do 5x5 for, with hanging leg raises you do NOT have to complete all 5 reps on all 5 sets. The goal after 4 weeks is to get as close to that (getting all reps on all sets) as possible. However, if hanging leg raises are easy for you, add resistance with bands, ankle weights, etc. If that's too awkward, consider doing the Smith Machine Hip Thrust (which is much easier to change resistance on) instead of hanging leg raises for 5x5.

Exercise #2 – Muscle Growth + Strength

2-5 sets x 6-8 reps | hit reps on first set | all sets taken to failure

The second exercise per muscle group will be done for 2-5 sets of 6-8 reps. Again, keep the weight the same on all sets, but take all sets to failure. You only need to hit 6-8 reps on the first set, but you may very well hit the rep range on subsequent sets. For example, you may fail at 8 reps on the first set, fail at 6-7 reps the next two sets, then fail at 4 or 5 reps on the last two sets; this will vary from person to person.

On the last set, after reaching failure, do one drop set

Just like with the first exercise, rest 2 minutes between all sets to focus on strength gains, or 1 minute between all sets for a quicker workout as well as to emphasize fat loss.

These sets will build both muscle mass (due to training to failure) and strength (due to fairly low rep counts and moderately heavy weight).

Progress Goal: The goal here is to increase the weight used or to increase the number of reps completed in successive sets.

Exercise #3/4 – Muscle Growth + Fat Loss

2-5 sets x 12-15 reps | hit reps on all sets | all sets taken to failure

The third and sometimes fourth exercise (depending on the muscle group) will be done for 2-5 sets of 12-15 reps (larger muscle groups get more sets). You must hit muscle failure, or close to it, on all sets, and you must also hit the rep range on all sets. That means you’ll likely need to drop the weight on some of your later sets. 

For example, you may do 100 pounds on the first two sets, then drop to 80 pounds on the remaining sets to hit failure at 12-15 reps on all sets. If on any set you don't hit the 12-15-rep range, rest-pause to reach at least 12 reps. 

On the last set, after reaching failure in the 12-15-rep range, do one rest-pause

Rest 1 minute between all sets in this portion of the workout.

This method will further encourage muscle growth (instigated from the second exercise), while also helping burn body fat.

Progress Goal: The goal in this portion is to increase the weight used on all sets by the end of 4 weeks.

FNF Workout Summary

These guidelines pertain to each muscle group in all workouts:

Exercise Objective Sets x Reps Hit Rep Counts? Go to Failure? Rest Periods Intensity Technique (on last set)
1 Strength 5 x 5 All sets Only last set 2 minutes 1 drop set
2 Strength, Muscle Growth 2-5 x 6-8 First set at least All sets 2 minutes 1 drop set
3/4 Muscle Growth, Fat Loss 2-5 x 12-15 All sets All sets 1 minute 1 rest-pause

FNF Training Split

The Fail No Fail Program is a 5-day split where every muscle group is trained only once a week. This type of split is great for building size and strength, yet it also has enough intensity and volume to burn fat (particularly if following a fat-loss diet like Dieting 101).

Here’s how the split plays out over the course of each week:

Day Muscle Groups Trained
1 Chest and Abs
2 Shoulders and Traps
3 Back and Triceps
4 Legs and Calves
5 Biceps and Forearms
6 Off
7 Off

Cardio Training With FNF

You can include cardio any number of ways on the FNF program. Cardioacceleration can be done between exercises since all sets are straight sets (no supersets, drop sets, rest-pauses, etc.) That's if you want to get your cardio done during the workout. 

If you'd rather do cardio separately, you can add Tabatas or other HIIT cardio to the end of each workout or at a separate time of day. And of course, cardio can be done on one or both off days. 

What Diet to Follow With FNF

Your diet will depend on your primary goal.

If you want to maximize size and strength, I recommend following the guidelines and sample meal plans in my Muscle-Building Rules article. However, if there's another particular diet on JimStoppani.com that you prefer to follow when training for size and/or strength, go for it. Such diets could include Down and Up Mass, Super-Man Diet, or the 5,3,2 Strength Diet

If fat loss is your primary goal, Dieting 101 is always a great choice for your nutrition, but my Intermittent Fasting Carb Cycle Diet is also available for those who prefer IF.

When to Use the FNF Program

As with any program on JimStoppani.com, you can do the Fail Not Fail Program any time you’re looking for a workout that will get you stronger and more muscular. That said, I’m purposely launching this program on the heels of the 2021 New Year’s Challenge because I think it’s a great follow-up to The Daily Grind, or for that matter, any other full-body program that includes intensity techniques.

The Daily Grind is a 5-week program where every muscle group is trained in every workout. It also includes three different intensity-boosting techniques: supersets throughout, and either rest-pause or drop sets on the last set of every exercise in Weeks 2-5. The perfect program to follow Daily Grind, then, is one that’s not a full-body split and doesn’t utilize supersets. FNF does, however, use drop sets and rest-pause (one per exercise).

Your training should never stay the same for too long. If you’ve been doing full-body workouts and supersetting exercises for the last couple months (or longer), FNF is a great change of pace to make sure your gains don’t plateau.

Fail No Fail Workouts

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Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

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