One of the most common questions I get asked as a coach is “how often should you train to failure?” All the time? Never? This short guide covers the pros and cons of training to failure, when you SHOULD train to failure, and when best to AVOID it.
Let’s get started shall we?
The Pros of Training to Failure
Training to failure creates a massive stimulus, which IN THEORY means that you should see sizeable adaptations in your body.
It can also be really time-efficient, as one set to failure is often as taxing as multiple sub-maximal sets.
The Cons of Training to Failure
Training to failure also creates massive fatigue, significantly more than training sub-maximally. This fatigue can negatively impact the rest of your training.
Training to failure can also be extremely psychologically demanding, which again adds to your weekly stress and fatigue.
Last but not least, it can also increase the risk of injury for certain exercises.
When you SHOULD Train to Failure
Training to failure is best done sparingly, in very specific conditions.
1) If you’re doing single-joint, isolation type exercises towards the end of your workout.
These type of exercises are very safe when taken to failure and create very little systemic (whole-body) fatigue, so are a great choice for training to failure. Make sure to place them towards the end of your workout so you don’t mess up your major movements (i.e. squats, bench, deadlifts)
2) If you’re nearing the end of your current training block
Testing your maxes with reps to failure is a great way to end a training block. Yes, it provides a high amount of stress, but you’ll be deloading the next week anyway so you’ll have time to recover.
Just remember to carefully set up safeties and use a spotter on your heavy lifts.
When You Should AVOID training to failure
Basically any other time or situation than those described above. The reason for this is that the negatives far outweigh the positives in terms of long term progress.
3 sets of squats at RPE 8 (2 reps from failure) might be a session that you rate as 7 out of 10 in terms of fatigue.
Whereas 3 (or even 2) sets of squats to failure will most likely be a session that you rate as 10 out of 10 in terms of fatigue.
So by training to failure you’re creating a session that is 30% more fatiguing. Which raises the question, does training to failure produce 30% more muscle growth or strength development?
And the answer so far is NO. Most studies have shown very little difference between the two training approaches in terms of outcome. And this is something that I’ve also seen in my experience as a coach.
So why would I make my athlete’s WAY more tired for no significant improvements in performance? Simple, I wouldn’t. And you probably shouldn’t either.
Training to Failure – The TLDR
Over-rated, but potentially useful if used sparingly in very specific circumstances.
That’s all for today. If you’ve got any more training related questions feel free to check out some of my other articles and guides.
And as always, if you’re looking for advice and programming from a coach you can trust, you can book a call to chat with me here.
‘Til Next Time
MSc Strength & Conditioning
British Weightlifting Tutor/Educator