Is training until failure the best way to optimize muscle growth? Do you need to do it every workout? Every set? First of all, what is considered failure.

How Do You Reach Failure?

Failure occurs when you cannot perform another rep of the exercise that you’re performing, with correct form. If you have to cheat the weight up by swinging your body or sacrificing correct form, you are past failure. If you can only get the weight partially up, then you are past failure. If your spotter has to help you get up your 8th rep, then you’ve failed. The muscle’s ability to respond to signals from the brain becomes weakened as we continue to put tension on them. Muscles use ATP to contract, which is an energy source that doesn’t last very long. Once it runs out, your muscles’ need to rest so that your body can use glycogen to restore ATP storage.

How Beneficial Is Training Until Failure? Is It Neccesary For Muscle Growth?

Training until failure is not necessary for muscle growth. It does help grow muscle though. If you want to build more muscle, then you should consider incorporating this style of training. You do not have to do it every set or rep. Pick an exercise or 2 a day and throw in a few sets of training until failure. Using your last set of an exercise is a good time to try training until failure. This ensures that you aren’t overworking your muscles’ and failing on every set.

It’s important tot note that if you are a beginner, it is not necessary. You will get enough “newbie gains” from just putting your muscles’ under tension. Adding an advanced style of training may just add extra tension and make you very sore or cause injury. Beginner lifters usually do not have the greatest form, so this can be dangerous. It’s better to just train and work on learning form before adding in advanced styles of training. If you have recently suffered an injury and are just getting back into the gym, it’s probably not beneficial to train until failure. You can hurt yourself, and its better to build up the basics first. Get your strength to return where it was before your injury. Then you can train until failure.

Now lets focus on the benefits. Training until failure increases lactic acid production by the body, which assists in muscle building. You are breaking down the last few muscle fibers when you do train until failure, resulting in more muscle growth. When your central nervous system realizes that the body is struggling to lift the weight, it activates stronger motor units known as large muscle fibers. Normally when lifting, your body is just utilizing your smaller muscle fibers. This means that training until failure recruits small and large muscle fibers. Again, leading to more muscle breakdown.

Training until failure seems to be more advantageous when training for muscle hypertrophy than for strength. Training for hypertrophy is trying to increase the size of your muscles’, so that they look bigger. Whereas strength training is simply trying to increase the amount of weight you can lift, such as power lifting. When strength training or power lifting it’s essential that you take longer breaks between sets so that your fast-twitch muscle fibers can repair. By training until failure, too much muscle damage is caused, making it more difficult to perform the next set. Also, power lifters usually train at high weights with short rep ranges. Failure usually occurs in the higher rep ranges. If you’re trying to get bigger or have a better physique, then you want to break down your muscles’ as much as possible, so that they grow bigger. Training until failure is a great way to do this.

Can It Be Dangerous?

First of all, anything can be dangerous depending on how it is done. If you are using incorrect form to train until failure, then it can be dangerous. If your back is rounded during a dead lift, you can throw out your lower back, putting you out of the gym for months. Research has shown that training until failure increases resting levels of the hormone cortisol. This is the stress hormone. Adenosine monophosphate (AMP) levels are also increased in those who train until failure frequently. AMP helps with protein synthesis, and when increased too high, becomes drained and cannot synthesize protein in the body as often. Training until failure regularly is very hard on the body, increasing the amount of rest you need. This style of training is also very hard on your nervous system. You are pushing your body to its extreme limits, which it can sometimes take, but repeatedly can cause issues.

So, When Should I Start Training Until Failure?

When you have been working out for a couple years. If you notice your muscle gain has started to decline and you are looking for new ways to test yourself. When you are not getting as sore from doing the workouts you are currently doing. The weight that you’re lifting isn’t increasing; you’re stuck in a plateau. The first few times you try training until failure you will be a lot more sore and may need to factor in more rest time.

What Do the Pro’s Say?

“The last 3 or 4 reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion. That’s what most people lack; having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain, no matter what happens.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold was a big fan of training even past failure, as he would do a few cheat reps after he reached failure. This is where you use improper form to force a couple more reps and put extra tension on your muscles’. Now, I hope it is obvious that he was at an extreme advanced level that most people will realistically never reach. Just being honest. Only having worked out for a few years and trying to copy a 7 time Mr.Olympia’s workout training styles may not be beneficial, but rather dangerous. Instead, take his words and put them towards your training intensity. Use it as fuel to get you through those tough workouts.

Training Beyond Failure

We have already mentioned that when you can no longer perform another rep with correct form, that you have failed. So, how do you train past failure? There are 2 ways.

Cheat Reps – Cheat reps are where you cheat a few more reps up at the end of your set by using incorrect form. An example would be swinging your back to do a couple more bicep curls. The benefits are that you add a little more tension on the muscle by forcing yourself to perform reps. The drawbacks are that you can injure yourself easily as you are using incorrect form. This can also cause muscle tears.

Drop Sets – Drop sets are when you drop the weight but perform the same exercise with the same form, after reaching failure. For example, set out a set of 30lb dumbbels and a set of 20lbs. On your 9th set of dumbbell bicep curls, you fail and cannot get the weight all the way up. You immediately drop those and pick up the 20s and perform some reps with the same form. These are a lot safer and help break down more muscle tissue. I would highly suggest adding in drop sets to your workout, no matter how long you’ve been lifting. Cheat reps, not so much. The risk to reward factor is too great.

4 Replies to “Should You Workout Until Failure”

  1. Hello!

    Even though I know absolutely nothing about body building, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article  I love how you went into great detail to explain exactly what working out until failure really involves.  Also, how,  if you want to have the muscles of your dreams, you have to “work past the pain”, and how that sets the champions apart from the weight lifters who have not yet reached that next level of total determination, according to Arnold.  This is a great, very informative and inspirational post that will help fellow body builders demand more of their bodies during their workouts!

    1. Thanks so much! I really like that quote too, and it can be applied to many things in life other than just the gym 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing this well written and informative article with the world here. I found it very interesting. I suppose you could really apply these facts to any form of muscular exercise whethr it be actual weight training or just the exercise that you get from day to day graft. Thats how i get my strength.

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