It gets a bad rap. As in "Fail." Or even "Epic Fail." (See?)
In reality, failure is a necessary evil. It's a means to an end, really. It's the path to success.
See, for those who haven't failed, their potential in whatever endeavor they seek in life has not been fully realized. They haven't tested the upper limits of their capabilities. The "what could be." In other words, they’re coasting along. Not really sinking or swimming… more or less treading water, if you’re following this analogy.
It's not a novel concept, I suppose, but it is worth repeating and truly understanding. If at first you don't succeed, skydiving isn't for you. Or however the saying goes. In life, I've noticed, we receive loads of advice. Sh*tloads. People seem to be experts on anything and everything. (Says the guy writing a random blog entry each week.) But I do know that it's the advice from those who have experience in an area, whatever that area may be, that I really respect. Been there, done that, here's the cliffsnotes. On top of that, it's their stories of what didn't work in their experience, or how they failed and got back up, that I find most useful. Or at least the most motivating.
A few video shorts on failure:
Famous Failures (somewhat cheesy, maybe, but topical)
Michael Jordan ("I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying.")
And the great Al Pacino speech as Coach in "Any Given Sunday" (explicit language included)
If we take the concept of failure and relate it to our physical training, never experiencing failure in the gym would mean one or more of the following:
1. Reps or movements are too easily executed. (Intensity is lacking.)
2. Overload is not being reached. (This is paramount in physical adaptation.)
3. Potential has been self-limited. (A person is not as strong, fast, powerful, agile, coordinated, etc. You name it, it's limited.)
This brings us to some simple recommendations.
Don’t be afraid to fail. Fear is a powerful thing, and the mind often tricks us into not believing we’re good enough. Cliché, but you can accomplish a lot more in life once you believe it can happen. "If the mind can dream it, the body can achieve it" type of thing. Also, being afraid or tentative can prove to be dangerous when working at the peak of physical exertion/exhaustion. Think of a max effort clean or back squat under a heavy load… being unsure of yourself could spell disaster. In this scenario, know how to bail out safely, set yourself in position, and go for it. Do or do not, there is not try.
Test your limits. How can you ever know what is possible if you don't test your physical threshold? See #3 above. If a person is constantly living in their comfort zone as it applies to the gym, and never presses the proverbial envelope, then what's the strongest they can be? The fastest? The fittest? What's really their PR on a lift or workout? The answer is we don't know. And if you're in this to find out, it makes no sense to limit yourself. By not failing, you're doing exactly that.
Learn and adapt. What, if anything, went wrong during failure? Was it technique with a lift? Maybe strategy going into a competition? Often we experience a mental lapse during workouts... maybe more focus or more self-confidence could've helped. Or maybe you hit a wall during a MetCon, so think about what to do to either prevent that from happening or how to deal with it if it/when it does happen again. And if nothing went "wrong," what did you learn about yourself as you hit that strength or conditioning threshold? On a related note, if performance diminishes, learn from it. Perhaps you are overtraining. Or there was a fuel deficiency. Again, learn and make necessary changes.
Failing is fine, but only if it leads to progress.
I'll leave you with this: A video by Jay Rhodes in his journey from humble CrossFit beginnings into a pretty damn good athlete.... a video that might be more worthwhile than any words on a computer screen.
My Journey Into CrossFit, by Jay Rhodes (who did a similar article for the CrossFit Journal)
Go forth, and fail.