I’m going to start off this post by defining something for those that may have not heard, or may not understand the saying: “Training to failure”:
When you train to failure, what you’re actually doing is loading the muscle with a maximal weight and moving the weight to a point where the tempo of the lift is being involuntarily slowed down through fatigue.
What that means is that you are using the maximum weight you are capable of moving, and moving it as many times as possible to the point where you are moving the weight so slowly, and with such little force, that you become incapable of moving the weight anymore at all.
Maximal weight for your body is something you are capable of moving 8 to 12 times over 3-4 sets; training to failure with that weight would look more like 15 to 20 reps over 3-4 sets, OR increase the amount of sets you do and keep the rep ranges the same.
By training to failure, what you’re actually doing is engaging and employing ALL the active muscle fibers within the muscle grouping being trained and forcing them to activate.
However: keep in mind that you aren’t training to failure and moving your whole body to get those last couple of reps. That just creates tons of room for injury and that’s NOT the point of training this way.
Along those lines…
I’d like to point out that also extends to going to the gym every day and training to failure, or training every exercise to failure.
There is ample research to support that training to failure constantly over a period of time has led to a decrease in anabolic growth and an increase in cortisol. This means that athletes, bodybuilders, and even those taking every set to failure are putting themselves at a risk over the long-term.
This can include a weakened immune system, higher-than-average levels of cortisol, and suppressed anabolic growth factors (like HGH and IGF-1).This means that like everything else, training to failure can actually be more detrimental than beneficial if employed too frequently.
What’s the right approach?
If you haven’t yet, find a trainer, athlete or fitness professional provide you with a training program that ensures you can get to a point of training to failure…followed by a failure-training protocol where you train to failure maybe once or twice a week (depending on how frequently you see your trainer and are training overall).
This post will actually support coaches in their training programs when they have you training to failure.
If you don’t have a coach, then keep this in mind: the best time to train to failure would be in the last set of any given exercise. This is supported by studies that have shown training to failure on the last set of every exercise increases muscle growth and strength.
You’ve got choices
There are other ways to train to failure that include things like: drop sets, negatives, partials and assisted reps. Let’s have a look at what these are.
These are just as they sound: once you’ve reached the plateau on a certain weight, you drop the weight so that you can continue to do the same rep-range. Continue to drop the weight as needed, until you reach full muscle fatigue.
Negatives focus more on the eccentric movement than the concentric. This means lowering the weight super-slowly, and having someone help you bring the weight back to the top. Lower it slowly again until complete fatigue has been reached.
Partials are what I like to call “baby reps”; they’re the reps you do when you hit fatigue and can only bring the weight up a little bit. BUT: by focusing on a partial, you are knowingly bringing the weight to a stop point, and not intentionally failing.
Assisted reps are my least favourite, because it usually requires a partner, whereas negatives can sometimes be done without the assistance of someone else. Assisted reps involve your partner helping you lift the weight through the concentric and eccentric motions. The benefit is this ensures that no injuries occur when failure is met.
Your takeaways are:
As a quick review:
- Training to failure can increase anabolic growth and overall strength
- There are various methods to help you reach a failure point in your training, such as drop sets, negatives, partials and assisted reps
- Do not train to failure all the time. When you do train to failure, focus on training the last set of every exercise to failure only.
Personal training, wherever you are
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Wes Van Hart is a personal trainer, nutritionist (and far more), located in Toronto. Wes is an advocate for constantly improving both physical and mental health, and as such, he is dedicated to advancing his knowledge base, certifications and ability to help his clients, no matter how that looks.
Wes was the very first FitIn affiliate, and is a regular contributor to the FitIn blog.