How important is training to failure ?
I have a confession to make first.
I have not been back to the gym since the Corona Virus shutdown my favourite little weights room at the Kutchan gym. You can see updated status on the Kutchan public gymnasium on the link below
When I was training last summer season there was a school of thought going round the gym and probably every gym that you really need to keep pushing your reps until you fail, until you are not able to squeeze out even one more press. That was the point that you had a short rest, then repeated the movement. It was based on the idea that by pushing to failure you are more likely to cause the micro-damages necessary to cause muscle hypertrophy and also help train your nervous system to better at muscle recruitment.
Here is the interesting thing. that theory has not been tested by science as much as you think it would have by now. A brilliant study was just published by Lacerda et al ( 2020) that looked at the effect of weight training to failure verses just doing an equal amount of reps overall but not pushing up to the point that you simply can’t perform one more press.
And what did they find ?
The good news is they both work.
If you start training regularly you will get stronger. This is also suits the findings or other research looking at number of reps verses amount of weight etc. Whatever you end up doing. If you do resistance training regularly you will stronger and the difference between various methods may not be as much as we think.
What Lacerda’s study did was divide the group of 10 untrained me in to 2 groups. Over 35 training sessions one group pushed right to failure the other just did the same amount of reps but with a little more rest. Interesting for about 50% there was no difference whilst some individuals found a small difference with some getting better results with going to failure, others getting better results just doing the volume.
But the take of the home message of this study has to be that it’s really the volume and number of training sessions that seems to be more important that if you go to failure or not. This is certainly new news to some gym folk law that is still passed around. The caveat here is still need to be putting in a hard effort however, please don’t misinterpret this message as ” working hard doesn’t matter ” it’s just we are trying to tease out just how important it is if go right to point that we simply can’t perform the last rep.
The findings of this study may be particularly interesting to you if you rehabing an injury. Obviously by pushing to failure there is much high chance of loosing good form in our lifts and also becoming unstable and risking further injury.
So if you are comfortable training to failure and can maintain your good lift form even at failure you are probably just fine to keep on going the way you are, but if you are new to weights, nursing through an injury or worried you may slip and fall then you can pull back from this brink and know you are still getting a great workout.
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Lacerda LT, Marra-Lopes RO, Diniz RCR, et al. Is Performing Repetitions to Failure Less Important Than Volume for Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength?. J Strength Cond Res. 2020;34(5):1237-1248. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003438
Pubmed link: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31809457/