Should You Train To Failure?
Today I’m going to show you how to improve your muscle building results by 60%.
No… not a typo.
The technique we’re going to be using today is something which many people agree on, but few people do correctly:
Training to failure.
When you get this skill right, you can enjoy significantly improved returns on your efforts in the gym that will have others wondering what on Earth you’re doing (or taking).
Let’s get stuck in.
What Is Training To Failure?
How hard should you hit a muscle to produce optimal results?
Should you be working until you are unable to perform another rep, or should you stop short?
Training to failure means taking a muscle to the absolute limit, being unable to perform another good rep.
It’s been debated for many years in the fitness world, and the answer usually changes depending who you ask.
Because science has gotten to the bottom of this one already.
Is Training To Failure Better For Muscle Growth?
In a nutshell; yes.
Way back in 2010, a team of researchers from McMaster University, Canada, tested the effects of training a muscle to failure across various rep ranges to see what kind of effects it had on hypertrophy. (1)
- 4 reps with a heavy weight which caused muscle failure.
- 25 reps with a moderate weight which caused muscle failure.
- 25 reps with a light weight which did not cause muscle failure.
The results of this study were significant for two reasons.
First, when it was published in Plos ONE it was the first major study to show that higher reps build just as much muscle as lower reps.
Second, it showed the crazy benefits of training with weights which cause muscle failure.
The group which trained with 25 reps to failure built 60% more lean muscle than the group which trained with 4 reps to failure.
60% is not something to be sniffed at.
And here’s the thing…
Both groups built significantly more lean muscle than the participants who trained 25 reps without failure.
In fact, that 3rd group were trailing so far behind they looked like a tiny speck in the distance, or a bead of sweat on The Rock’s quads.
A year later, a follow-up study looked at the same subject and arrived at the same conclusion:
Training to failure yields better muscle growth. (2)
And in 2012, a trial published in the Journal of Physiology looked at how much of a role time under tension played in the muscle building process, and once again arrived at the same conclusion. (3)
This study was interesting because the results were somewhat misunderstood when it was first reported in the media.
The researchers wanted to test the theory that performing slower, more controlled repetitions would create greater hypertrophy than reps performed at a regular tempo.
It makes sense.
And, as you would expect, the group that performed 12 reps more slowly recorded more results.
In fact, 114% more.
The media ran away with the results and claimed we should ditch regular training in favor of slower, time-focused training instead…
… but when we look at what was really going on here, we see that they didn’t actually discover that “Time Under Tension Training” was better for building muscle.
They discovered that training to failure was the deciding factor.
You see, both groups were using the same weight. But the TUT participants kept tension on the working muscle long enough to achieve muscle failure within their 3 sets of 12 reps, while the other group did not.
What Does Training To Failure Do?
So you’ve seen some research showing how training to failure can improve hypertrophy…
… but let’s take a look at what’s happening inside your muscles while you do it.
This will give you a better understanding of the process, and help you get more results from your workouts.
When we reach muscle failure (the stage where we are unable to perform another decent rep), we induce metabolic stress.
This causes the body to release several key hormones, including growth hormone.
In my article on why we should regularly train in higher rep ranges (linked above), I mentioned that one of the benefits of more reps is the ability to induce greater metabolic stress on a muscle versus hanging around in the lower rep ranges all the time.
This is because we’re attacking both the fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers within a muscle belly.
Well, as the studies above suggest, using a weight which causes muscle failure is paramount to making that happen.
Revel in the burn.
How To Train To Failure – The Right Way
I encourage my clients to train to failure on a regular basis.
It’s highly effective for muscle growth, and it makes training sessions a lot of fun.
Those of you who have my app; you’ll know that many of the workouts are absolute wars. They are designed this way for the reasons shown above.
But there’s a method to the madness…
See, training to failure is one thing. But doing it right is another thing.
Some trainers instruct people to go to failure on every single set.
I don’t agree with this.
Heck, if we blast our chest into oblivion on each set of Dumbbell Bench Press, it’ll likely have a massive impact on the amount of weight we can lift on subsequent sets and/or lead to an injury (warm-up sets are a necessity, not a luxury).
Instead, train to failure wisely.
Perform your working sets by using your rep range as a guide. If you have a target of 12 reps then that 12th rep should be where the weight is becoming difficult to manage.
You shouldn’t be dying, but you should be uncomfortable.
You should still be able to squeeze it out.
Training to failure comes into play on the final set of an exercise. This is where we want to really push it to the limit, because we don’t have to worry about performing another set straight after. This final set is where you leave it all on the gym floor.
Those of you who have tackled my popular workout plans Beach Bum and Classic Size (both in my app), that’s precisely how they work.
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- Burd N. A., et al. Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More Than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise In Young Men. PLoS ONE. (2010)
- Burd N. A., et al. Enhanced Amino Acid Sensitivity Of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis Persists For Up To 24 Hours After Resistance Exercise In Young Men. J Nutr. (2011)
- Burd N. A., et al. Muscle Time Under Tension During Resistance Exercise Stimulates Differential Muscle Protein Sub-Fractional Synthetic Responses In Men. J Physiol. (2012)