Training To Failure – Common Weight Training Misconceptions


Nearly every aspect of weight training is controversial leading to misapplication, misunderstanding and improper logic. And training to failure is no different. Used properly, failure in the gym can serve as a useful tool in your fitness arsenal!

When it comes to weight training, failure refers to performing a set until the point of being unable to complete one more rep with correct form. Many use it to feel that they have used all the energy and gave their bodies the needed boost. Surprising as it may sound, exercising to muscular failure is not, and never has been, a requirement of stimulating muscle growth. There is virtually no human activity that involves going to failure in real life. For example, a person who makes his living by digging with a shovel would never dig to the point where he could not lift one more shovel of dirt. And yet, people who perform such manual labor can develop tremendous muscularity. Similarly, you can spot sprinters and bikers by their distinguished hamstring and quadriceps muscles in the legs. But who sprints to failure? Who crosses the finish line and cannot take one more step? Well, maybe some elite athletes do, but they are also prone to overtraining and injuries.

It is not necessary to force a muscle to its absolute limit of failure in order to stimulate new muscle growth. The important part is the slow steady progressive increase in muscular intensity that is required to ensure steady muscle growth. This way you will be able to train regularly, recuperate your muscles in shorter periods of time and will not experience the terrible symptoms of overtraining which are likely to occur with training to ‘failure’ diminishing your fitness gains.

What Failure Does To Your Body
Most trainees that fail every workout, or even every set of every workout, end up overtraining unless they get proper rest and fuel. There are several reasons for that.


First of all, you know that you break down your muscle tissue in the gym while growing it during rest. Every time you increase the intensity or work load, or even change exercises, you give your muscles new stimulus. Lifting beyond simple comfortable weight causes breakdown of your muscles cells through tissue rupture. This, in turn, gives a spark for your muscles to grow as they sense that the future load is coming soon.

In order to adapt and to prepare for the next loading session, muscles need time for relaxing and fuel for growth. It is actually during the time when you don’t exercise when your muscles and all body tissues grow. You eat, sleep, and the lean mass becomes denser, stronger, larger. So, next time you arrive at the weight machine or dumbbell stack or even on a treadmill, make sure your body is well prepared for a great workout. Giving your body what it needs in the right amounts is the only way to produce better results. Proper training and recuperation are the keys to achieving your fitness potential and surprising yourself and everybody around with heavier lifts and toned muscles. But that’s in a perfect world.

How many people really get a solid eight hours of deep sleep every night? And how many follow stress-free lives, stretch every day, eat right all the time, support muscle growth with balanced diet and appropriate supplements? If you are seriously overtrained, you will reach failure at a lower point meaning that your muscles would be capable of lifting smaller weights than needed for the progressive intensity essential to stimulate new muscle growth.

Advocates of training to failure, particularly those who adhere to only one set to failure mode (known as the Arthur Jones model), believe that the last failing rep is the most productive rep of the set. As the rationale goes, the first reps takes very little of your effort, the second, third and forth reps take more effort until you reach that last rep. This most difficult rep is considered by some to be the most productive rep in the set as it is the one that triggers muscle growth stimulation.

What If You Train To Failure All The Time?
bench-press-gripCan your muscles grow with failure training? Absolutely. It just makes the picture more complicated than necessary. If you train too heavy – you break down the muscles too much during the workout. And despite all the rest and fuel you supply, they fail to cope with induced stress. Stressful hormones are known to disturb your metabolism and you may end up either putting on undesirable fat tissue with excessive calorie packing or, as an alternative, you will find yourself losing precious lean toned muscles due to poor adaptation and growth.

Adjusting your training routine properly with the gradual slow progressive increase in intensity will trigger muscle growth without ever going to complete failure. This mechanism has been working for people engaged in heavy physical labor since ancient times and it works for all those who look to trim and tone their bodies.

How does the unscientific mind measure intensity? By feel, by burn, by pump, by soreness, by failure, by rep count, by set count, or by the advice from others. Fatigue, failure and intensity may all be very perceptive depending on how you feel on that particular day at that exact moment. And these, in turn, depend on your rest quality, outside stress amounts, and fuel purity. Try not to set your mind to complete x number of repetitions with x number of weights if you don’t feel that you have the power despite that your program tells you to do so. Listen to your body and give it what it asks for. As a result, you may find that maybe taking it easy today will double your energy levels tomorrow. And remember to manage the rest of your daily pressures when you leave the gym.

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About Author

Elena Voropay

Elena Voropay is a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Instructor and Certified Nutritionist. She also holds accreditations for her knowledge in Iridology and Herbal Medicine. Elena has conducted presentations and lectured on various health, fitness and science-related topics. See my profile page for more information!

1 Comment

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    Excellent article on training to failure! It has provided pros and cons for us to follow. I am 60+ but I am following my heart, so when it tells me to slow down, it’s done. I want to feel happy with my workouts and I just want to remain fit and health. The gym is not for us to punish our bodies in. We must listen to our bodies and hearts. Good Luck to all and stay fit and healthy during 2016 and many thanks to ShapeFit!

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