Should you train to failure?Oct 07, 2021
Lifting hard and heavy takes its toll on your body.
Just ask any powerlifter towards the end of their career...
Training to failure (maximum effort) has proven benefits, but those benefits come at a cost over a long enough timeline. Bottom line: If you're not competitive, why risk it?
The next question then becomes: Do you need even to train to failure to see superior results?
Short answer: No
Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):
- 🔢 Don't skimp on volume! You still need to put in the reps.
- 🚀 Lift Fast! Have dynamic efforts in your program, i.e., fast lifting.
- 🤦♂️ Don't judge a workout by how "spent" you feel!
- ⛽ Leave some in the tank when you train!
- 📈 And you'll still see results!!
Two different studies conducted over the last year are making a STRONG case for NOT lifting to failure. When it comes to strength and hypertrophy (muscle growth), training a few reps shy of failure is just as good if not better than failure training.
The studies aren't saying failure training is ineffective, just that having some rep in reserve (RIR) is just as good, if not better.
Or, to put it another way... Don't try so hard 😂.
Training to Failure: Study #1 (2020)
Who: 14 trained men
How: Subjects trained the unilateral leg press and leg extension twice per week. One leg was trained to failure, and they were instructed to stop sets on the other leg before they reached failure.
Why/Result: There were no significant differences between groups for quadriceps hypertrophy or strength outcomes.
Training to Failure: Study #2 (2021)
Who: Seven women and three men
How: Subjects trained the unilateral leg press and leg extension twice per week for nine weeks. Researchers instructed the subjects to stop sets on one leg after a 15% velocity loss and on the other leg at a 30% velocity loss.
Why/Result: Researchers reported no statistically significant differences between conditions for the rate of increase in strength or muscle thickness
Let's breakdown some of our takeaways a little bit more:
🔢 Don't skimp on volume!
Most research supports that if the volume is equated, you will see very similar results in strength and hypertrophy. What does that mean?
- Back Squat Max: 300 lb
- Workout: 5 sets of 2 reps @ 90%
- Volume: 2,700 lb. of back-squat volume
No doubt the above workout would move you in the direction of stronger. But it would also be pretty hard! But equated volume could be slightly "easier" and elicit the same results.
- Back Squat Max: 300 lb
- Workout: 5 sets of 3 reps @ 70%
- Volume: 3,150 lb. of back-squat volume
You have slightly more volume here and only added one rep per set. This makes for a more manageable and more easily recoverable training session. In theory, if you recover more quickly, you could put in more volume sooner. A lot of benefits to training back off from "max."
Caveat: Failure Training is NOT ineffective, and if you are that powerlifter who needs a high-rep 1RM, you may want to see the higher intensified to grow acclimated to the stimulus.
🚀 Lift Fast!
I've been preaching this since 2010!
You need to lift fast. When you lift fast, you generate MORE POWER! When you generate more power, you get stronger!
It's simple physics.
Dynamic effort in practice is not a difficult thing to do. However, we like to show athletes that you want to move the weight as fast as possible WITH PERFECT FORM. The velocity needs to be there, and so does the form. Therefore, lifting for speed does not permit you to have crappy form.
7 sets of 2 reps @ 40% (for speed)
When athletes see workouts like this, they think we made a mistake! 2 reps? 40%? Too easy! Yes, and that's ok. We are trying to build your speed and keep the velocity up to see more results without tearing your body down.
🤦♂️ Don't judge a workout by how "spent" you feel!
If you are judging how "good" your workouts are by any of the following, you are a very novice trainee (whether you know it or not):
- How much you sweat
- How tired you feel when you are done
- How much it hurt
- How long it takes you to recover
Any of the above are great ways to make sure your longevity as an athlete is short.
Follow the science and have a program that takes a long-term approach to your training. The simple and easy things will garner an athlete the most progress. But these "unsexy" things don't post well to Instagram, so I see why they haven't caught on...yet.
⛽ Leave some in the tank when you train!
- Recovering from a workout should take days...
- Soreness is a good indicator...
- You should be spent at the end of a workout...
We can thank David Goggins and CrossFit for the high-intensity mindset. But, believe it, or not you can finish a training session without feeling like death and still make serious progress!
That's how we program at Garage Gym Athlete, though I am not saying our training is "easy."
But there is a time and place for "hard" training, and it is not every day. The more days you leave some in the tank, the more days you can train. And the only way to win this game is to play daily for decades!
📈 And you'll still see results!!
The science is not in favor of high-intensity training all the time!
People think they are lazy or not trying hard enough when they work out and don't put it all on the line.
That training style is slowly dying because people are learning of the cascade of problems it can lead to and how it can wreak havoc on your health... the very reason you are training in the first place!
Until you embrace more intelligent training, your results will stall, or worse; you'll wreck your health.
Like these ideas? You need GGA.
Garage Gym Athlete is the "tip of the spear" for our training. We identify training weaknesses, solve them through our program design, and validate it with science.
For ongoing daily training that exploits everything we have discusses here and more, check out Garage Gym Athlete.