Don't train to failure (do this instead)

written by Philip Stefanov  |  APRIL 27, 2021

Training to failure means lifting a weight to a point where your muscles can no longer produce enough force to move it with good form and a full range of motion. Some deem this the holy grail of muscle growth and strength gain. You get the most out of your training in the short term, say during a workout, or a single set. Others consider it an unnecessary part of the training. You fatigue yourself more and limit the total volume you can do.

There are no black and white answers here, but research hasn’t been able to show any significant benefits in favor of training to failure (1). What is important to look at is the fact that training to failure could lead to technique breakdown, especially in newer lifters.

Training to failure can also negatively impact recovery and sabotage your performance on subsequent sets, exercises, and even workouts. A study from 2017 supports this idea (2). In it, the group that trained to failure took longer to recover and had much higher levels of fatigue.

There are three significant issues with using training to failure as a sustainable strategy to cause overload:

1. Many people (mostly beginners) take it too literally. They believe the only acceptable way to leave the gym is to crawl out of it. Anything less is a waste of a workout.

2. Training to failure is also very taxing, mentally. Pushing yourself to the maximum once or twice in a workout is achievable and sustainable. But pushing yourself 15+ times? Not so much. Really, who would want to train that way? I’d probably break in half after a week or so.

3. Training to failure leads to technique breakdown. For some exercises, that’s not a big deal. But for movements like the deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press? You better believe you’ll get injured fast.

Although training to failure seems like a sound strategy to some, consider how that one set to your limits is going to impact the rest of your workout. And how that incredibly demanding workout is going to affect the rest of your training week.

For most people, especially newer lifters, leaving one to four repetitions in the tank is going to be a much better strategy most of the time. This is going to help control fatigue, allow you to maintain proper technique, but also stimulate your muscles to grow and strengthen.

Thank you for taking the time! Until next week,


P.S. You can read more of my thoughts on failure training here.


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