If you’re an average gym goer, you are probably taking every set to failure. I was the same, I simply didn’t know any better. We all know how Arnold lifted and the culture of bodybuilding, complete failure appeared everywhere and seemed to be the goal of any training session.
For years, training to failure was a part of my regime. A workout wasn’t successful unless I couldn’t move my muscles at the end, even if I needed a spotter to save me from the weights.
Now, what if I told you that pushing yourself to the bare limit isn’t necessary?
Whether you’re trying to add muscle mass, improve your overall look, or are just using resistance training to improve health, the idea of muscular failure is misunderstood and misused, making it a big reason why many don’t see adequate results from their training.
There is a big difference between breaking a muscle down so it can grow, and destroying it to the point that it can’t recover properly.
Today I will answer this important question once and for all, taking a look at the new evidence and research available, giving you the final verdict. Just keep reading!
Should You Train to Failure?
Remember your first time lifting weights? You probably grabbed a pair of dumbbells, did reps until you couldn’t lift anymore, rested, and repeated. It’s a simple approach, but it can also be frustrating.
Many people struggle with how hard to push during their workout. They perform exercises without a clear understanding of how to build muscle and strength.
The outcome of your gym effort depends on many factors, including muscle tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage, all contributing to muscle growth. The idea of pushing every set to muscle failure is hotly debated and often misinterpret.
The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits all answer. Whether you should train to failure depends on your unique needs, goals, and preferences.
Before you go all-out on your next set, consider these factors and customize your workouts accordingly.
Is Training to Failure Necessary for Progress?
The debate surrounding training to failure and its role in muscle growth continues, with limited research offering definitive answers. However, many strength and conditioning athletes often embrace this approach, believing it may activate more muscle units and stimulate muscle growth.
Moreover, some evidence suggest that training to failure can also trigger higher growth hormone secretion compared to non-failure based training, though it doesn’t indefinitely establish its importance.
Still, it’s worth mentioning that while training to failure can enhance muscle hypertrophy and strength gains, it should not be a constant practice due to the risk of overtraining and injuries.
Training to Failure and Workout Intensity
The key factor that determines if training to failure is a good idea is workout intensity. Intensity simply means how heavy the weight is compared to the maximum you can lift for one rep, known as your 1-rep max (1-RM).
In my opinion, it’s best to avoid training to failure when you’re lifting weights at or above 90 percent of your 1-RM.
Training to failure with such heavy weights will do very little to improve muscle hypertrophy and will shift the focus towards strength. If you’re going to hit absolute or complete failure, you don’t want to do it with the maximum amount of weight you can lift.
Furthermore, training to failure with such heavy weight will almost always cause a breakdown in technique, increasing your likelihood of getting injured. Weightlifting is a lifetime activity, you need to be smart and avoid unnecessary risks.
So, generally training to failure should be reserved for a percentage range from 50 to 85 of your 1-rep max. Don’t go too light, just use a moderate weight you are actually capable of lifting, having a spotter at hand being recommended.
How Often Should You Train to Failure?
Figuring out how often you should train to failure is another critical piece of the puzzle in your fitness journey. The frequency of training to failure should align with your overall workout program and goals. Speaking from experience, my perspective is that incorporating failure-based training too frequent can increase the risk of overtraining and burnout, especially if you’re consistently pushing your limits. Unlike enhanced athletes, the average fitness enthusiast doesn’t possess the added strength and endurance needed and shouldn’t use their advice.
A more balanced approach might involve occasional bouts of training to failure, a few times per workout, strategically integrated into your routine, while the majority of your workouts focus on progressive overload and proper technique.
Finding the right balance depends on your unique objectives and how well your body responds to the demands of training to failure.
Workout Goals and Training to Failure
Your personal fitness objective plays a significant role in determining whether training to failure is the right path for you. Let’s consider the differences between two distinct fitness groups: powerlifting and bodybuilding. Powerlifters have their focus on achieving maximum strength, pushing their nervous system to handle heavier loads. This leads them to train at relatively high intensities of their 1-rep max (1-RM). Powerlifters also prioritize full-body, compounds movements, requiring precise form and technique.
On the flip side, bodybuilders set their interest on muscle growth, so they often train at a lower intensity of their 1-RM. In the world of bodybuilding, sheer strength isn’t always the primary goal. Additionally, bodybuilders tend to favor smaller, isolation exercises that target specific muscle groups, which typically demands less technical finesse.
These opposite approaches and exercise selections mean that bodybuilders can frequently incorporate training to failure into their routines, while powerlifters may do so less often. Your objectives, combined with the exercises you prefer, will ultimate determine how frequent you should train to failure.
Training to Failure and Exercise Selection
The level of skill needed for a lift affects how often you should take it to failure. Basically, the harder a lift is to get right, the riskier it becomes to train to failure. On the flip side, if a lift doesn’t require as much technique, it’s usually safer to go all out.
Taking the standing overhead press for example, it’s a pretty dangerous lift, and trying to push it to failure can be a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, when it comes to simple multi-joint moves link chin-ups, bench presses, lunges, and similar you can push till the end. But still be cautious.
Now, when we’re talking about single-joint exercises like bicep curls, triceps extensions, and calf raises for example, these are less tricky to nail down, making them always suitable for training till failure.
In the world of fitness, the question of whether to embrace training to failure isn’t a simple yes or now. As we concluded our today’s blog, it’s evident that there’s no universal rule. Training to failure can be a powerful tool for muscle growth and strength, although it must be used sparingly.
Striking the right balance between pushing your limits and avoiding overtraining and injury is the key. So, as you approach your next set, remember to consider your goals, exercise choice, and experience level. Using the info provided here you can create a workout regime that challenges you effectively and sustains your fitness journey in the long run.