One Rep Separates the Boys from the Men

That’s right folks… There is a secret to making physical gains after all… The secret is…

*drum roll please*


Most will have you believe that the secret is actually going to the gym and working out. While this is true for beginners, it is not so for intermediate or advanced lifters. The true secret, and the thing that separates the boys from the men (or the girls from the women) is the last rep. I’m dead serious!

Depending on where you fail, and where you quit, determines the type of gain(s) you will make. I mean it… If you REALLY want to make measurable gains in your level of fitness, your strength, and/or the size of your muscles then you need to do one more rep.

You know how when you are doing curls and it gets tougher as you’re finishing a set? That is because your body is reaching muscular failure (your lactic acid threshold). Well, the largest portion of your gains will be made precisely AT (and even beyond) muscular failure

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It is easy to type, “just do one more rep.” However, if you are really at your limits and cannot possibly do anything else, then one more rep takes more discipline and determination than anything you’ve ever imagined. If it is so tough that you cannot imagine completing it, then you are there, my friend.

So, the next time you’re banging out reps and calling it quits when it gets too tough, and your body is screaming, and your muscles are failing… I challenge you to do just one more rep. I know it feels like you couldn’t possibly do one more. I know that it hurts. I know that it is tougher than imaginable… I also know that this is the point in which your muscle will make the biggest gain!

I have a simple plan of action, and follow this same routine each time… Try this:

First, you must know your limits… Know approximately where failure will occur. I am intimately familiar with my body and what weights take me to what failure point at how many reps. If I’m trying to make bigger muscles (maximum slow and fast twitch muscle fiber hypertrophy) I will aim to fail between 8 and 11 reps. If I can’t muster eight reps than I know the weight is too heavy. If I do more than eleven, than it’s too light. Adjust accordingly. (that said, for strength gains, I shoot for 6-8 reps before utter failure / for fat burning (I never do these, unless I’m simply doing periodization and switching up routines) I would shoot for 12+ reps).

Once we know the proper weight, bang out your ten(ish) reps. Go until you are certain you cannot do another rep.

Now comes the tough part (I’m not kidding folks… If you are truly at failure, this could possibly be the toughest thing you do all day)… You must dig deep. You must tap your inner willpower. You MUST do one more (painful) rep. For best results, use a spotter who can take a half a pound off the weight by lightly touching the bar and helping you accomplish this.

Try chanting this in your mind, “Anyone can do one rep!”


We aren’t done yet. Now we are going to do what lifters call a negative. Instead of dropping the weight and crying, we SLOWLY lower the bar over a six to ten second period, using every ounce of energy left. If you did it right, tears will be welling in your eyes, your muscles will be SCREAMING, and you might even feel light headed. Congratulations!!!

If you can accomplish this with each set, I guarantee quick results. You will make (and see) serious gains that you never thought possible.

Give it a go and let me know what you get out of it!

Thanks for reading,

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About Vaughn Ripley

Vaughn is a happily married daddy, author, and CIO. He is an HIV+ hemophiliac, and is one of the longest surviving HIV+ people in the universe.
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  1. Tyler Durdin UMD says

    Good advice! Most of the current research for weight lifting gains is moving away from the multi-set (3 sets of 10 reps classic model, plus warmup and cooldown, then isolating exercises) to a single set to failure. And failure is true failure, when your muscles stop moving the weight, then you keep fighting for another 5 to 10 seconds. Those final 15 seconds are the workout. The first 7-9 reps are the warmup. Then you are done.

    I know a guy who used a HIT methodology of 1-set to failure about once a week, and gained a ****-load of muscle over a few month period. I think he lives in your neighborhood!

    With this, don’t forget the second part: eat! Can you put up a blog on the second part of the building equation?

    • Yeah… I love HIT. Still doing it four or five years later. It seems to be the single best way to pack on massive amounts of muscle with the shortest amount of workout time. Look for my post on 1/6 about getting a beach body!

      I do want to post more nutrition based articles. I have so many blog ideas stewing in my head it is tough! Would you entertain doing a guest blog post about nutrition?? *hint*