Should I Train To Failure?

Chris Campbell CSCS, USAW, AOLC

 

Great question.  And it is a loaded question.  It seems the more you learn in any 

subject, the more complex the answers can become, so I’ll try to keep it simple. 

 

There was a study done by the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2006 that compared the effects of training to failure and NOT training to failure.  Here are the results:

If you train to failure, there are short-term benefits (1-6 weeks): 

- build muscle

- build strength

- improve power

- improved endurance

 

HOWEVER, these benefits, are pretty equal to those of programs that DO NOT train 

to failure. 

 

Here is the big difference. After the 6-week mark, things started to shift:

- Non-failure subjects saw a greater increases in lower body power output 

- Non-failure subjects saw greater increases in maximal strength

- Training to failure subjects saw greater increases in maximal number of

repetitions performed on the bench press (endurance)

- Training to failure subjects saw reduced levels of resting IGF-1 (an important 

hormone in anabolic processes of the body) as compared to non-failure 

subjects…not good for muscle building

- Training to failure saw decreases in resting levels of total testosterone 

concentration…again, not ideal for muscle building

 

Your training progression, rep scheme and tempo reflect the results you will get.  

Train fast, be fast.  Train slow, be slow.   There is a time where you need to train 

slower in your program (stability or hypertrophy phases) but if the majority of your 

sessions are this way, you will not be a faster, more powerful athlete. 

 

I believe that ANY training program works initially…but the true test of a training 

program are the long-term effects and results. 

 

I especially dislike training plans that people follow when their success is judged on 

“how hard” the workouts are, not how effective.  I know..CRAZY right? 

 

ANYWAYS, back on topic…

WHY? 

 

 

One reason is that the CNS (central nervous system) is extremely sensitive to max-

out efforts.  This is why when you perform one set to failure; let’s say to 10 reps, on 

the bench press, when you come back for the second set, you may only perform 6.   

However, if you stopped at 9 on the first set, you could probably knock out 8 or so 

on the next set.  

 

Physiologically we know that if a max out set of 10 takes 30 seconds (which it 

probably is even shorter than that), we should be ready to go in a minute or so.  But 

while the muscles may recover, the nervous system cannot. 

 

If your nervous system is fatigued, there is no way for you to teach your body how to 

produce maximal force, and if you try, you are at risk for an injury.

 

The study showed that there is an advantage to NOT pushing to failure when 

training in a “peaking” period where you are attempting to improve power and 

strength.  

 

When is it OK to train to failure? 

 

I personally enjoy the mental toughness aspect of training to failure.  The burn and 

muscle pump is a plus too.  I like to throw in failure sets into hypertrophy phases of 

programs and as Finishers.  

 

I would not advise training to failure in overhead movements, or in multi-joint 

exercises at the end of a workout.  If you want to feel the burn after a workout, stick 

to single-joint exercises like bicep curls and triceps press or use a machine so you 

don’t have to worry about compromised form. 

 

Should you max out on reps till failure? The answer is…there is a time and place for 

it.  Long term, the “rep till failure” program starts to wear the body down and is not 

effective in maximizing power and strength gains.  

 

 

 

Reference: 

Izquierdo M, Ibañez J, González-Badillo JJ, Hakkinen K, Ratamess NA, Kraemer WJ, French DN, Eslava J, Altadill A, Asiain X, Gorostiaga EM.Differential effects of strength training leading to failure versus not to failure on hormonal responses, strength, and muscle power gains. J Appl Physiol. 2006 May; 100(5): 1647-56.

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Chris Campbell

Chris Campbell - CEO and Co-Founder Through my passion to forge myself into the best athlete possible, I developed a love for performance training. I learned and experienced that with the right training and the right coach, any athlete can change their body and maximize their performance. The passion I experienced as an athlete trying to find the best training regimen to achieve all my goals was the foundation for starting Peerless Athletics. I began a journey to find the “Holy Grail” of training by learning from great coaches and combining the best parts of each system into one complete training system: Peerless Athletics. I have personally been trained by the best performance coaches in the country including: - Mike Boyle (Director of S&C for the Boston Red Sox) - Dennis Logan (Head of NFL Combine Prep Program at EXOS) - Keenan Robinson (North Baltimore Swim Club and Michael Phelps’ SC) - Rob Oshinskie (Owner/Founder of Victory Sports and Performance) - Joel Saunders (Director of Adult Performance Training at EXOS) - Dennis Keiser (Owner/Founder of Keiser pneumantics) - Rob Taylor (Owner of Smarter Team Training) - Mike Gittleson (Fmr. U. of Michigan S&C Coach) - Augie Maurelli (Fmr. U. of Delaware S&C Coach) - Scott Moody (Owner/Founder of AthleteFIT) - Kevin Boyle (Director for Explosive Performance) - Chris Gorres (Regional Director for Explosive Performance) Athletic Accomplishments: As a walk-on at the University of Delaware, I beat the odds by earning a starting position and a full athletic scholarship. I played fullback/h-back and linebacker for the Blue Hens from 2009-2011. In 2010 we won our conference, the CAA, and went to the D-1 FCS Championship Game. After college, I used the Peerless Athletics Training System to improve my combine stats dramatically. I was invited to the NFL Super Regional Combine to workout in front of all 32 NFL teams. I would have never got to that stage without Peerless Athletics Training Systems which is why I am now dedicated to providing every person I work with the opportunity to use our system and become the best version of themselves.