Training to failure – social media would have us believe that training to failure is an illustration of strength, heart, the person you are and the only way to get strong. However, it is important to understand that training to failure can also be detrimental to your strength & health gains. This is where the science behind training comes into play. My grandma can make any gym goer train to failure, vomit or even faint, that’s easy, understanding why you are training and what is happening to your body while you are training is where we come in.
As a coach, it is important to design a program capable of preventing injuries and reaching client goals in the most effective way. A study was conducted involving a group of high fatigue (HF) subjects and low fatigue (LF) subjects1. The subjects were trained for three sessions per week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for nine weeks1. The HF group completed four sets of ten repetitions at 75% of their one repetition max (1RM), with 30 seconds rest between each set. Each repetition had to be completed with the correct technique and when the subject failed the load, it would be decreased and they would immediately finish off the set1. As for the LF group, one repetition was completed every 30 seconds, up to 40 repetitions and each repetition was to be performed with the correct technique. The results illustrate that the HF group attained muscle soreness in the first week of training, whereas the LF group did not produce any muscle soreness1. The 1RM increased by 34% for the HF group and 40% for the LF group. The study results found similarities in strength gains between the HF and LF groups, though the HF group experienced muscle soreness during the first week indicating muscle damage, where the LF group did not1. Muscle damage was found to reduce strength by 50% after a session and in theory, can have a negative impact on strength gains2.
“Strength training does not need to involve server discomfort and fatigue to produce significant gains in strength. Effective strength training can be performed with large rest periods, which minimise fatigue and discomfort.”1
On the other hand, training to failure may play a role in increasing strength levels. It was found that training to repetition failure increased strength and power levels in elite junior athletes3. To support this, training beyond failure using forced reps has been shown to increase acute hormonal and neuromuscular responses4. This leads to muscle growth and the reduction of body fat, playing a role in strength development. This physiological response was evident amongst college football players. These players lost more body fat over a 10-week period compared to those who did not train with forced reps5.
Evidently, training to failure can have both positive and negative impacts on the individual. There is so much bro science out there saying “no pain, no gain”, referring to the “pump” and that every set must go to failure, in turn, regular gym goers may be misled into the incorrect training methods and possibly hinder any progress. The key message here is to understand when not to train to failure and when to train to failure. For example, if you’re an athlete looking for performance, you may want to stay away from training to failure. As an athlete, the main goal of training is to prevent injuries and enhance athletic performance. Essentially, this means training under coaches who understand the scientific principles to make you run faster and jump higher. Training to failure and not having adequate time for recovery increases the risk of injury, due to the muscle damage, and reduces strength for optimal performance. On the other hand, bodybuilder focussed love training to failure, pushing their body to the absolute limit and getting the “pump”. If you’re a bodybuilder or someone looking to transform their body, enhance muscle growth or decrease body fat, training to failure can be beneficial but only if done correctly.
There is still so much research and misleading information out there on the physiological/psychological adaptations in the lifting world, particularly on this subject. It is easy to get lost, sucked into new trends/gimmicks and lose focus on the task at hand. Luckily, there are qualified, experienced and educated performance coaches out there like us at Absolute Health & Performance, who live and breathe everything to do with exercise science and human movement. We know how to direct you on the right path, whatever your goals may be. As one of my role models in the industry says “health, fitness and performance is not a sprint, it’s an ongoing journey where quality of movement, sustainable training and nutrition approaches will ultimately lead to greater outcomes, whatever your goals” – David Smith (Head Performance coach and Exercise Scientist, Absolute Health & Performance).
Come in and see us at Absolute Health & Performance, 199 William Street, to receive the right coaching and ultimate service in rehabilitation, training and performance to work towards your goals, through scientific and evidence-based practices.
Written By Performance Coach Michael Velianis
- Folland, P. J., Irish, C., Roberts, J., Tarr, J., & Jones, D. (2002). Fatigue is not a necessary stimulus for strength gains during resistance training. BJSM, 36, 270-374.
- Newham, D. J., Jones, A., & Clarkson, M. (1987). Repeated high-force eccentric exercise: effects on muscle pain and damage. J Appl Physiol, 63(4), 1381-6.
- Drinkwater, E. J., Lawton, W., Lindsell, P., Pyne, B., Hunt, H., & Mckenna, J. (2005). Training leading to repetition failure enhances bench press strength gains in elite junior athletes. J Strength Cond Res, 19(2), 382-8.
- Ahtiainen, J. P., Pakarinen, A., Kraemer, J., & Hakkinen, K. (2003). Acute hormonal and neuromuscular responses and recovery to forced vs maximum repetitions multiple resistance exercises. Int J Sports Med, 24(6), 410-418.
- Fincher, G. E. (2004). The Effect of High Intensity Resistance Training on Body Composition Among Collegiate Football Players. J Strength Cond Res, 18(4), 354.