FAIL NO FAIL
When I first started training, someone very smart told me that if I just stuck with the basics I’d be fine. Naturally, I ignored this information and struggled to see much progress. Eventually, my muscle building mistakes and lack of results frustrated me enough that I finally went back to my mentor, asked for his advice, and actually took his tips to heart and followed them to letter. Or so I thought.
I did the exercises, worked hard, but still didn’t quite see the changes I imagined. Some of this was due to impatience and unrealistic expectations. But part was due to a fundamental basic misunderstanding. I did not know how to build muscle. Heck, I didn’t know how to build a good workout. When I went to the gym, I still really didn’t understand how to lift weights.
Form was secondary to output. And listening to my body was secondary to…well…I never really listened to my body. Or even understood what that meant. And that was a big reason for years of subpar training
TRAINING TO FAILURE WITH MAXIM WEIGHTS ON EVERY SET WILL ALMOST INEVITABLY RESULT IN A BREAKDOWN OF TECHNIQUE, DRASTICALLY INCREASING THE LIKELIHOOD OF INJURY.
You see, when I lifted weights I tried to take every set to failure. I attempted to push my muscles to the point that they could not lift the weight, never really understanding that this wasn’t how someone at my level should be training. And it really isn’t how to build muscle or how to become stronger.
As I became older and smarter, I finally began to learn how to train the right way and when to push to failure, and it made all the difference.
To help you understand how hard to push, I reached out to Jordan Syatt, owner of Syatt Fitness. Let his be your lesson on everything you need to know about training to failure. –Born
TRAINING TO FAILURE:
THE FINAL WORD
By Jordan Syatt
Think back to the first time you ever lifted weights. What did you do?
You probably walked up to a dumbbell rack, picked up the heaviest weight you could hold, and performed some exercise movement–heck, any exercise movement–to the best of your ability. Rep after rep after rep. And you did so until you could no longer move the weight. Then you rested—probably until you felt fresh again—and repeated. Sometimes, a little naivety and simplicity is a good thing.
But that simplicity is also why so many people are frustrated by what they do in the gym. Beyond the exercises you perform and the frequency with which you train, most people don’t know how hard to push on any given set. They don’t know how to build muscle. And they don’t know how to build strength. What they do know how to do is just perform exercises.
It’s the reason why “training to failure” is one of the most highly debated topics in the fitness industry and, truth be told, it’s extremely misunderstood.
I’ve spent enough time studying the topic to know that there’s no simple answer. Some people swear that taking every set to failure is the secret to success while others insist it’s a recipe for guaranteed injury and “overtraining.”
Is training to failure good or bad? Right or wrong? Will it help you achieve your goals or will it devastate your body and ruin your chances for success?
The answer – as most things in life – depends entirely on the individual as well as their needs, goals, and preferences.
Unfortunately, though, saying “it depends” doesn’t help to clarify the situation. You need to go to the gym and know what to do. So consider this your guide to know when—or if—training to failure should be incorporated into a training program.
The Tale of (Training to) Failure
While there are numerous types of muscular failure, the most commonly referenced type is known as Concentric Failure and it’s what most people are referring to when they talk about failure.
From a definition standpoint, concentric failure is:
“The point in a set where a full repetition cannot be completed during the concentric (positive, or muscle-shortening) phase of the rep without assistance from outside means (such as cheating or assistance from a training partner).”
To use the bench press as an example, failure would be the point when—after lowering the bar—you are unable to press it back to the starting position. If you’ve ever read any of Adam’s work, you’d know that he had trouble with this scenario when he first started training and it almost caused him to be crushed.
Research comparing the differences between training to failure vs. not training to failure is, unfortunately, scarce. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that future research will tell us more than what strength coaches, bodybuilders, and other experienced fitness professionals have intuitively known for years. Check out the latest steel bite pro reviews.
That said, here’s what we know from a scientific standpoint:
Training to Failure Builds Muscle and Strength—If Not Done Repeatedly
Willardson et al. is perhaps the highest quality review of the literature pertaining to failure-based training. After examining the data, the authors concluded that training to failure is a valid method to use in order to enhance muscle hypertrophy, facilitate maximal strength gains, and break through plateaus.
However, it’s important to note that Willardson also stated “training to failure should not be performed repeatedly over long periods, due to the high potential for overtraining and overuse injuries. Therefore, the training status and the goals of the lifter should guide the decision-making process on this issue.”
Training to Failure Increases Growth Hormone
Linnamo et al. found that training to failure resulted in a significantly greater increase in the secretion of growth hormone compared to non-failure based training. While this finding in no way, shape, or form proves that training to failure is better than other methods, it may lend credence to the success so many athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts have had with failure-based training.
There are other studies, but the findings are limited and hard to apply to the typical gym-goer. And that’s really what matters: How does this apply to you?
So let’s start there: You. After all, it’s your goals and training style that will play the biggest role in determining if and when you should push you body to failure. And that decision comes down to asking 5 questions.
Question 1: How Intense is Your Training?
Training intensity is perhaps the single most important factor in deciding whether or not training to failure is effective or even appropriate. Training intensity refers to the percentage of weight being lifted in relation to an individual’s 1-repetition maximum (1-RM), improve your training results with proven.
In my opinion, training to failure at intensities at, or above 90 percent of your 1-RM should be avoided. Training to failure with such heavy weights will do very little (if anything) to enhance muscle hypertrophy and may actually hamper strength gains.
Furthermore, training to failure with near maximal weights will almost inevitably result in a breakdown of technique, drastically increasing the likelihood of injury.
Generally speaking, training to failure should be reserved for training percentages ranging from 50% to 85% 1-RM. While I rarely prescribe training to failure at either of these end-ranges, I believe that they are appropriate guidelines to follow for a majority of intermediate and advanced trainees.
Keep in mind, though, training to failure at 50% of your -RM can take an inordinate amount of time to complete and may not be well suited for those with time restrictions. On the other hand, 85% of your 1-RM is still heavy weight and the use of a spotter is strongly encouraged.
Question 2: What is Your Training Age?
There are three major categories signifying the current “level” of a given trainee. I call this “the trainee continuum” and they are: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
An individual’s training status will determine what they need, and therefore someone who is a beginner might require unique methods of training that may substantially differ from someone who is at an intermediate or advanced stage.
For example, beginner trainees must, first and foremost, work on developing proper form and technique in compound movements such as the squat, bench press, deadlift, and chin-up.