Training To Failure - AnabolicMinds.com
    • Training To Failure


      By Bryan Haycock, M.S. Flex

      An age-old question of bodybuilders is whether or not to take each set to “failure.” By failure I mean momentary muscular failure. This is when the weight stops concentric movement. Simply put, failure is when you can no longer lift the weight.

      If you go into most gyms that still allow lifters to do their thing, you will see nine out of 10 guys and gals straining mightily as they take each set to failure. Some think that this is the only way to build muscle. The thinking is that most of the reps you do up until muscle failure are pretty much worthless; it’s only the last two or three that trigger growth. It all comes down to fiber recruitment, they say. If you don’t train 
to failure, some fibers never get called in to help and those fibers will then not be stimulated to grow. There isn’t time or space to address all of the questionable thinking in that statement, but at least you get the picture. Yet others do the same thing but for a different reason. Each and every workout for them is a test of their mettle; a gut check, if you will. Anxious for rapid progress, they test themselves on every set of every exercise, desperately trying to experience greater strength than the previous workout. Normally these are younger guys who have yet to realize that miracles don’t happen overnight. If you are familiar with any of my writing, you will already know where I stand on the issue; nevertheless, I am always open to new data and the implications they might have on training strategies for growth. One new study just happens to add quite a lot to the conversation.

      Researchers in Denmark recently published a study looking at recruitment patterns in the deltoids during lateral raises. Before I go further, let me say there are a few shortcomings to this study, but I still think the insights it provides are worth noting. This study compared heavy loading (3 reps) versus lifting to failure and used electromyography (EMG) activity to determine fiber recruitment. I should note that the subjects were untrained and the resistance apparatus was elastic tubing. Now, before you write this off as irrelevant, hear me out.

      What they found was that EMG activity was actually higher at the midway point for the lighter resistance than it was for the 3rd rep of the heavy set. But this isn’t the important part. They also found that EMG was maxed out before reaching failure. That’s right, they found that EMG activity and hence muscle fiber activity was higher during reps 10–12 than it was at failure using a 15-rep load.
The take-away message from this study, despite its subject pool or use of elastic bands, was that muscle fiber recruitment plateaued 5 reps before failure. So, put this little tidbit of information in your toolbox and use it the next time you’re planning your training strategy. It may just allow you to train but not overtrain.

      Reference: Sundstrup E, et al, “Muscle Activation Strategies During Strength Training with Heavy Loading vs. Repetitions to Failure,” J Strength Cond Res. 26(7):1897-903; July 2012

      Source: http://www.flexonline.com/training/train-failure-or-not
      Comments 20 Comments
      1. VikingBP's Avatar
        VikingBP -
        So you're saying if you can do 15, stop at 10?
      1. cjcox's Avatar
        cjcox -
        I still think that despite the conclusion drawn in this article there are way to many factors that were left unexplored in the cited study. Muscle fiber recruitment is determined by many more factors like overall conditioning of the subject, % of 1RM utilized, form, and resistance type. This article doesn't get close to thoroughly exploring the intended subject.
      1. timvalen's Avatar
        timvalen -
        I've probably added about 50 lbs. of muscle to my frame over a lifetime, and I never train to absolute failure on my core movements, periodization does wonders without doing so.

        Although I do sometimes practice going to failure on isolation movements.
      1. OrganicShadow's Avatar
        OrganicShadow -
        Originally Posted by VikingBP View Post
        So you're saying if you can do 15, stop at 10?
        That's not the point, the conclusion of this could have been more thorough. After ATP stores are depleted, which doesn't take long, that mid range rep area starts recruiting new pathways and muscle fibers. Those last few reps peak test and IGF release while "locking in" the benefits from the earlier reps. Those last few reps are going to be the big microtears trying to be achieved. No, you can't stop at 10. The EMG showings are only a piece of the puzzle... Still gotta get to that brick wall.
      1. rockme's Avatar
        rockme -
        I think it best to go all out on the last set of every exercise. Preceding sets should have 2-3 left in the tank
      1. VikingBP's Avatar
        VikingBP -
        Originally Posted by OrganicShadow View Post

        That's not the point, the conclusion of this could have been more thorough. After ATP stores are depleted, which doesn't take long, that mid range rep area starts recruiting new pathways and muscle fibers. Those last few reps peak test and IGF release while "locking in" the benefits from the earlier reps. Those last few reps are going to be the big microtears trying to be achieved. No, you can't stop at 10. The EMG showings are only a piece of the puzzle... Still gotta get to that brick wall.
        I was being sarcastic. The article suggests that stopping a few reps before failure is a good idea and offers poor evidence to back up the theory.
      1. blackandblue9's Avatar
        blackandblue9 -
        I've been using Dorian Yates Blood and Guts training method. Doing one to two ''warm up'' sets then doing one heavy work set to failure. I've never been happier with the results and can't imagine going back to any other method, and I, like many people I'm sure reading these articles have tried many. Six weeks on and one week off completely (which is really nine days) works for me. I agree with the comments that this atricle leaves a lot of open questions and the evidence is lacking to say the least.
      1. aj0538's Avatar
        aj0538 -
        I've tried the program Haycock invented and touts on his HST website and I didn't see the same results that I've seen using 5/3/1 and Dorian Yates B&G. I've gotten stronger and bigger using heavier weights in the lower rep range and going to positive failure.

        I also don't put a lot of faith in an article that references a study with the caveat that there are shortcomings in the study.
      1. OrganicShadow's Avatar
        OrganicShadow -
        Originally Posted by VikingBP View Post
        I was being sarcastic. The article suggests that stopping a few reps before failure is a good idea and offers poor evidence to back up the theory.
        Sorry. On screen text doesnt portray verbal cues well.

        I like the Yates mentality as well. One method I havent done in a hwile is the "burnout" of 10 reps, drop some weight, 10 reps, drop some weight... continue till you get to the bar/bare and o till failure. Counting reps at the end and hoping to beat it next time.
      1. fueledpassion's Avatar
        fueledpassion -
        Going to failure needs to happen. End of story.

        I like Arnold's old and simple explanation of the human body- which was something along the lines of: the human body is much like a train with an engine that adapts to it's load. If the load never increases (i.e. intensity, reps, or weight) then the exercise never demands adaptation of the muscles. If, however, you push it to the very max, there is demand for growth simply because you met a point in your workout that you failed.
      1. fueledpassion's Avatar
        fueledpassion -
        I really hate bench science, which is what I'd call this. That is, pseudo-science that very loosely is connected to truth and is usually misleading. People are always trying to find ways to not train hard in the gym. It's so easy to research and find lies and misleading points about everything in life, but the truth is always hard to find and hard to do! ALWAYS! The idea of overtraining is abused in circles like AM and other sites. It isn't overtraining to be concerned about but undereating...
      1. OrganicShadow's Avatar
        OrganicShadow -
        The article wasn't saying DONT go to failure it's just showing some recent studies which suggest that there's a midway point were the most recruitment happens. You still need to lock it up and drop dead. Training to failure is the only way to push through barriers and get the most of your lift. Bottom line. I do agree - undereating happens far more than overtraining yet people believe the opposite (lesson learned the hard way).

        -OS-Team AppNut
      1. jt339's Avatar
        jt339 -
        I'm so damn tired of this, people who have never overtrained saying it is solely because of diet. I have worked with 2 elite level powerlifters and both of them could not believe my ****ty work capacity and they couldn't raise it significantly. I have overtrained on 20mg superdrol a day lifting three times a week in only 2.5 weeks. I got at least 8hrs of sleep a night, put on 20lbs in 2.5 weeks and increased my incline DB press by 20lbs per dumbbell for the same amount of reps and I was overtrained for nearly a month. Strength dropped tremendously although some of it came back after a few weeks (was on 350mg of test as well so didn't go into pct), no desire to train or ****, sleep habits were all over the place and no appetite. Liver enzymes were only slightly above normal range. Every meal in that time was a struggle to get down. 3 weeks after the cycle I was still up 9lbs so the whole diet thing may be true for a lot of people, but not all.

        If I do ONE set of deadlifts to failure I'm weak and run down for an entire week. I can't even lift above 80% of my 1rm on a big lift 2 weeks in a row without feeling like ****. Sure most people don't know how to gain weight, don't sleep enough or party too much and that is the cause of their "overtraining," but there is a genetic predisposition to this. I have learned to end the set right before I start to grind out a rep. Progress is extremely slow this way, but it is the only way I progress even on superdrol, test, tren, nandrolone, etc. Some people just were not meant to lift weights, but it doesn't mean they can't have a decent physique. They just have to learn to progress at a slower pace than most.
      1. fueledpassion's Avatar
        fueledpassion -
        Thoughts consider JT! I am the same way with deadlifts, actually. I guess where I differ from most is that when I feel tired and run down, I first turn to my diet for the solution. I also do this when I feel sick (and it works).

        I prefer taking myself to new heights in the gym. I feel like in order to grow I must place more demand on my muscles than ever before, otherwise there is no need for adaptation..

        But I have seen too many guys that claimed "overtraining" in the gym who didnt even have the most basic part of their diet consistent, such as the macro ratios. You cant expect to last long when ur consuming all ur bodies nutrients on training and not replenishing them adequately daily. U know this, I'm sure. But others may not. America is totally ignorant when it comes to diet and nutrition. Fortunately some time ago a few more experienced individuals pulled me out of that ignorance.
      1. jt339's Avatar
        jt339 -
        Originally Posted by fueledpassion View Post
        Thoughts consider JT! I am the same way with deadlifts, actually. I guess where I differ from most is that when I feel tired and run down, I first turn to my diet for the solution. I also do this when I feel sick (and it works).

        I prefer taking myself to new heights in the gym. I feel like in order to grow I must place more demand on my muscles than ever before, otherwise there is no need for adaptation..

        But I have seen too many guys that claimed "overtraining" in the gym who didnt even have the most basic part of their diet consistent, such as the macro ratios. You cant expect to last long when ur consuming all ur bodies nutrients on training and not replenishing them adequately daily. U know this, I'm sure. But others may not. America is totally ignorant when it comes to diet and nutrition. Fortunately some time ago a few more experienced individuals pulled me out of that ignorance.
        I'm glad you actually have experience with this in regards to your deads as most people just don't understand. I'd say most people that are "over training" are actually just not eating enough and/or correctly, not sleeping enough, etc. so I think we can agree on that.

        The way I have to do things like curls for example is do 2 sets of 8-12 reps, static weight and I only increase the reps or weight when the 2 sets I did were not difficult at all. That is it for biceps for the week. Yes, a whole two sets. Progress didn't come any quicker training them more than that so I don't do anymore than that. Doesn't matter though really. If you can curl 40lb DBs with strict form, controlled concentric and slow eccentric for 2x10, you're going to have some pretty good sized biceps. Seems like a lot of people can't wrap their head around that, but thats another discussion entirely.
      1. fueledpassion's Avatar
        fueledpassion -
        Originally Posted by jt339 View Post
        I'm glad you actually have experience with this in regards to your deads as most people just don't understand. I'd say most people that are "over training" are actually just not eating enough and/or correctly, not sleeping enough, etc. so I think we can agree on that.

        The way I have to do things like curls for example is do 2 sets of 8-12 reps, static weight and I only increase the reps or weight when the 2 sets I did were not difficult at all. That is it for biceps for the week. Yes, a whole two sets. Progress didn't come any quicker training them more than that so I don't do anymore than that. Doesn't matter though really. If you can curl 40lb DBs with strict form, controlled concentric and slow eccentric for 2x10, you're going to have some pretty good sized biceps. Seems like a lot of people can't wrap their head around that, but thats another discussion entirely.
        Agreed, eccentric movement is where muscle tearing happens anyways
      1. bachelard's Avatar
        bachelard -
        Haycock's argument with HST is that it's progressive weight increases, not the weight itself that causes hypertrophy. The program doesn't avoid all failure. In the final sets of two weeks of 10-rep exercises, for example, you go to failure.

        I did the program for two years and it worked well. I didn't make the gains I did on the 5x5 or dogcrap programs, but it didn't wreck my joints or burn me out either. I'm about to go back on it. Another way of putting what I'm saying is that HST is a good program for older guys. :)
      1. LUWIS THE MAN's Avatar
        LUWIS THE MAN -
        Originally Posted by VikingBP View Post
        So you're saying if you can do 15, stop at 10?
        Yes sir dont go to failure do volume training!i used to go to failure but that snaped my **** up and didnt see much growth ive been doing volume training for 4 months and seen rapid groth!!!
      1. Bish83's Avatar
        Bish83 -
        Originally Posted by fueledpassion View Post
        Going to failure needs to happen. End of story.

        I like Arnold's old and simple explanation of the human body- which was something along the lines of: the human body is much like a train with an engine that adapts to it's load. If the load never increases (i.e. intensity, reps, or weight) then the exercise never demands adaptation of the muscles. If, however, you push it to the very max, there is demand for growth simply because you met a point in your workout that you failed.

        Bull****.

        In that paraphrase it doesn't say "i.e. intensity, reps or weight AND failure"

        Beginners will benefit from anything, their co-ordination, technique and form is crap so wouldn't be lifting heavy enough weight to cause any issue training to failure can do.

        Working to failure just encourages newbs to get their spotters arm curling half their bench weight or do half or quarter reps.

        If you can lift more than the previous workout wouldn't that mean you have adapted and surpassed you max? all without having to set the muscle on fire...
      1. fueledpassion's Avatar
        fueledpassion -
        Originally Posted by Bish83 View Post
        Bull****.

        In that paraphrase it doesn't say "i.e. intensity, reps or weight AND failure"

        Beginners will benefit from anything, their co-ordination, technique and form is crap so wouldn't be lifting heavy enough weight to cause any issue training to failure can do.

        Working to failure just encourages newbs to get their spotters arm curling half their bench weight or do half or quarter reps.

        If you can lift more than the previous workout wouldn't that mean you have adapted and surpassed you max? all without having to set the muscle on fire...
        calm down.

        There is a difference in training to failure and high volume training. I'm not referring to the latter. I'm referring to breaking a sweat and actually trying to take intensity to new levels each time you head to the gym. I see folks that work out years after years, with no intensity (i.e either this means not enough weight or not a fast pace, or both sometimes) and those guys don't ever have any transformation. They aren't eating right and they aren't training hard enough. The two go hand in hand actually but thats another story in itself.


        My definition of failure = intensity, not volume.