Training to failure is one of the best techniques to be doing in bodybuilding and strength sports, if you go into the weight room any day of the week and take a look at the people working out there who believe that every program, maybe even every set is worthless if it does not take you to failure or beyond. There are plenty of routines based around training to failure.
I can see the appeal, it is about strength training. An activity that is intense and is about pushing it as hard as you can. When you constantly reach the limits of your strength and endurance, does it help you or put you behind the eight ball?
If you are planning on being in the strength game for a while this is something you need to know. Let us break down the training required to get to failure, the benefits of it and the downsides as well and how you can integrate it into your training to get the maximum benefit.
Training to failure is normally defined as lifting a weight for a number of reps until you can do no more reps fully with good form during the concentric or lifting phases. Struggling through a sloppy rep or two is not failure, that is simply picking too heavy weight. It is more a 12 to 15 rep set where the last few reps are a real struggle and the last one stops right in the middle. Once you have reached this point, you can go no further, using intensity techniques such as forced reps, dropsets and forced eccentrics.
There are some people who will say that training to failure is not a good idea, I however, don’t. There are plenty of studies that show that if you perform a rep-based set with a certain weight or take the weight to failure, it appears that taking it to failure leads to more strength and hypertrophy gains, at least short-term.
So how does this happen? Fast-twitch fibers are the biggest and have the most potential for muscle growth. They are also the hardest to get to as well because your body recruits muscle fibers in order from the smallest to the largest. When you start moving a certain amount of weight, the body will recruit the minimum amount of muscle fibers it needs to move that weight because it is more efficient and uses less energy.
When you life a weight that you can only move for say 3-4 reps you will recruit a few fast-twitch fibers on the first rep but if you are doing a light weight for say 15 reps, your body is going to recruit more and more muscle fibers as you get closer to failure. Training to failure ensures that you recruit the maximum amount of muscle fibers.
Whilst recruiting those muscle fibers, you also create metabolic stress which has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on muscle growth. Of course, you get to see a true test of your strength in the rep range or with that weight. If you fail at 10 reps say, you know that your 10-rep max is on that lift.
This all adds up to a strong case in favor of training to muscle failure, there is also another side to the story as well.
Research has shown that if you regularly train to failure it can also have detrimental effects as well on performance. Nearly everyone is familiar with what happens when you push it too hard, too early in a workout. Failure takes a lot out of you, redline it from the start and you will have to cut back somewhere else and that somewhere is volume.
Many factors promote gains in muscle and strength:
They are all important but the biggest factor associated with hypertrophy and strength is the last one, volume. Some people do take this too far in one direction of course. I don’t believe you can lift a light weight for a ton of reps and get the same benefits as using over 60% of your one-rep max. After you get above 50-60% of your one rep max, volume is most closely associated with muscle growth and strength.
With my workouts I always work on the basis of low-rep, heavy lifting first, then volume, then high-rep burnouts, often using bloodflow restriction at the end. If you went to failure on the first couple of movements, you simply couldn’t recover well enough to rack up the volume on everything else to have consistently productive training sessions.
I would think many people did not even contemplate that leaving a few reps in the tank is even an option. Well it is and you should do it more often than not. I recently researched how to include failure in a program and I came up with that you should only train to failure for about 6 weeks before having 1-2 weeks off from training to failure.
This may sound conservative but I take it seriously because at about the six-week point your performance begins to suffer and it appears that the accumulated fatigue needs time to dissipate before you add it back in.
If you are wondering how to integrate failure into individual sessions then here are a few recommendations:
Hopefully you can learn these lessons now for bodybuilding so you are not learning the hard way like most people, myself included have. You can see for yourself how two brothers can change your body in a way you never thought possible, click here to learn more.
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