Does failure need to be learnt?

Does failure need to be learnt?

by Muhaimin X 27 Feb 2020

No one likes to fail, but even the staunchest of perfectionists will agree that failure is necessary for personal growth and development. The question is: how natural is failure? Is it something that every person is capable of handling naturally, or does it require effort to properly address? 


Failure happens when you don't achieve the goals you envision at the outset. While we experience a wide array of emotions whenever we fail, we often forget that we are predictably unpredictable and irrational creatures and often mistake failure for our own inability to surpass ourselves.


Learning to fail is often neglected by many. The truth is, most of us have yet to cultivate the habit of self-improvement. Failing in the gym is often very frustrating because we tend to attribute it us not being strong enough. Training, as Mark Rippetoe explains, is “physical activity performed for purposes of satisfying a long-term performance goal, and is therefore about the process instead of the constituent workouts of the process… resulting in metabolic and architectural changes that, over a period, yield a specific type of accumulated physiological adaptation.” Processes in nature never occur in a linear fashion, so coming into contact with bumps along the road is certainly to be expected. Ignoring this fact compromises the body’s ability to properly adapt to challenging situations. If we refuse to take failure seriously, progress will be limited. Essentially speaking, it’s okay to fail but you don’t want to “fail at failing”!


In order to school your body, it needs to undergo an educational process of learning how to fail. It needs to know why failure occurred and embrace the process of recovering and re-education. Failure forces you to look within yourself and benefits from a significant amount of candour during introspection. Cultivate learning by paying attention to form, stress levels, recovery, nutrition, and the amount of work being done.


How-to-fail checklist

  1. Leave your ego at the door.
  2. Evaluate how you feel during your warm-up sets
  3. How do you feel after your initial lifts? Are your muscles working with each other instead of against each other?
  4. Learn how to say “no” to a missed rep - form breakdown is a good reason to halt that set. However, do not let your muscles be the sole factor for stopping a working set.
  5. Record your failure and use accessory movements to grow your compound lifts.


The pursuit of anything worthwhile carries with it the risk of failure. Instead of developing a fear of it, use it to feed your progress by having it play the role of a harsh but effective teacher. The above list will help you to make the most out of any failures you may experience in the gym.


Failure sucks but we have to learn to trust the process if we want to become better. Train your mind and you'll be at a better place than when you first experienced failure. Sometimes you hit a wall in your progress but at other times, all it takes is a good lesson or two to get things going again.