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It happens to everyone at some point…failing a lift. It sucks when it happens but it is not the end of the world. You just have to know how to handle it. Really what we’ll talk about here can be applied to dealing with failure in general but we’ll just refer to lifting in this post. To start off let’s look at the most common reasons why someone fails a lift. There are several reasons and they are as follows (no particular order):

  • Too much weight
  • Mismanaged training load
  • Low energy/fuel
  • Technical flaw
  • Wrong headspace/distraction
  • Poor decision making
  • Accident(s)/Mistake(s)
  • Abnormal pain/discomfort

So what to pull away from that list is that when you fail a lift it is very rarely due to a single factor. Most of the time it is a multifactorial phenomenon that leads to the failed attempt. During the few times where it is due to a single factor, that factor is at a relatively high significance and should be addressed directly. The most common single factor example would be a technical flaw or, in other words, poor form. A common multifactorial example would be someone failing a lift because they did not eat breakfast, they did not recover enough from the last workout, and they decided to go for a personal record (PR) instead of dialing back on the weight. So the question is now, what to do when the failure has occurred?

The answer is the same whether it is a rare singular factor event or if it was multifactorial. That is to learn and see the silver lining of the situation. Now allow me to premise this with the fact that a really good training cycle is one where you do not unintentionally fail a lift at all. Yet, to get to that point you have to learn how to design and accomplish that. So that may involve failing a few times along the way. When you do fail a lift it is important to learn as much as you can from the situation so that you can have better training in the future. Failure is a humbling experience and it is easy to let it get you down and think negatively of yourself but, it is more progressive to stay positive. I’m not saying you have to be happy that you failed your lift! It should light a fire inside of you but make sure that energy is directed toward learning from the experience and then doing something about it. Basically…learn from your mistakes and shortcomings. Also, it is okay to be angry about it but just don’t dwell on it too long.

Now allow me to give you something to walk away with that you may implement now if needed. One method of dealing with a failed lift that I recommend for people is to take 10% off of whatever weight they’re doing and do at least 1 really good rep. That way you still walk away from the situation ending on a good note. For example, let’s say your workout included 3 sets of 4 reps of conventional deadlift at 200 lbs and on your last set you failed the 4th rep for whatever reason or reasons. You would then take the weight down to 180 lbs and do 1 powerful and successful rep. Now the next time you deadlift you’ll at least have the most recent memory of that successful rep to build off of.

I hope this helps you in your journey for strengthening your body and dealing with the obstacle of failure along the way. Think of it this way…if you do not fail at all in your entire lifting journey then are you really trying?

Learn how to deal with and avoid failure with lifting by joining a lifting crew with Merritt Powerbuilding!

Keith Oelschlaeger, CSCS, MS is a personal trainer at Merritt Clubs Canton.