Why Training To Failure Is Detrimental To Strength Training
February 20th 2020
Do you need to train to failure on every set?
You probably did some research online about several of the greats in bodybuilding and found a good deal of information.
Nothing you could really verify but it is a start.
Now, it peaked your interest in how to work out efficiently.
For bodybuilding, it may be a good strategy ONLY if you use light weights.
After all, if you are pushing volume to its extreme end, something needs to be sacrificed, either frequency or intensity.
Usually, bodybuilders go to the gym over 5 days a week, so you will be sticking with very light weights to build your muscles.
But for strength training, training to failure on any set is not a good idea and I’ll give you several reasons why that is the case.
Training to failure every set
If you are strength training, these are reasons why you should not train to failure on every set:
- This affects your ability to progress
- Your technique will suck
- What you do outside the gym is equally, if not more important
This affects your ability to progress
If you train to failure on every set, you will not be able to finish any other sets or exercises with 100% intensity afterward.
If you are training for strength, this is a big no-no since you need to get enough volume in your workouts in order to stimulate growth.
Going all out in one set will not be great.
This is one reason why AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets tell you to leave at least 1-2 reps in the tank.
A lot of fitness experts online always tell you to leave something in the tank and never go all out unless you are in competition.
In order to continue to progress for the long term, you need to have a plan that allows you to train smartly.
This is also not an excuse to go light all the time.
You need to train hard but also create and execute on a plan that will have you set new PRs 6 months from now.
Your technique will suck
If you push yourself all the time, your form will suck.
And if you ask any professional strength athlete in powerlifting or Strongman, they will stress how vital it is that you have the best technique possible.
One, this is to protect yourself and to make sure that you are performing the movement correctly to minimize your risk of injury.
Two, it is the only way you could make progress and to gain real strength.
With crappy technique, nothing good will come from it except maybe looking like an idiot when you get hurt.
What you do outside the gym is equally, if not more important
If you are training to failure to the gym, are you making sure you are eating extra and sleeping to failure outside of the gym?
Are you getting recovery treatments, hot/cold tubs or massage therapy?
If you are going out to parties every night and chasing tail, your priorities are not aligned.
You are starting to think outside of the mold but a lot of your thoughts are misdirected.
You should also focus the majority of your time trying to recover.
What good is it to train to failure if you cannot recover from your intense workout in time for the next training session.
Then, for the next training session, you are forced to do lighter weights.
So, this is one reason why a lot of lifters who worked out for decades usually did one of the following:
- Did not train to failure but had a lot of heavy sets
- Trained to failure for one set and focused on recovering
And this is one of the beauties of strength training.
Everything works if you allow it to.
If you adjust your lifestyle, which a lot of people are unwilling to do, a lot of principles and strategies bodybuilders, Strongman and powerlifters did back in the day still work today.
It really boils down to being okay with having average and boring days on most of your training days and cycles.
Nothing exciting, nothing fun.
Just hard work and results.
Unpopular opinion, training to failure is necessary
According to some bodybuilders, like CT Fletcher, you need to train to failure on every set.
In order to make progress, you need to push your body to its limits so that you can recover and do it all again in the next workout.
If you do not give it your all, you are not unlocking your full potential.
You need to train hard to make more gains.
I find this mindset refreshing and it does make a good point in that a lot of newer lifters do not train as hard as they should be.
They go to the gym to mess around instead of training hard.
But there seems to be a lot of contradicting information out there:
- If you train too hard, you will hinder your progress
- If you follow traditional strength training protocols, progress seems so slow. You just want to do more
- If you always leave something in the tank, you will feel that you are not working as hard as you should be
- If you always push yourself to failure, you will be ridiculed and you might get injured
People seem to always give you the opposite advice when you feel that you are doing something correctly.
There is a risk with every decision you make.
Some risks are not worth it over the rewards.
For instance, if our bodies recovered perfectly, we would be training to failure on every set every single day because our bodies can take it and make sure we are stronger than the day before.
This is also related to your mentality.
If you have a different mentality to life, like the Spartan mentality, you will view every workout and challenge as a blessing and an opportunity to grow stronger.
These are natural gifts that you can overcome and learn something new.
One set to failure
This may be referred to as one growth set, an AMRAP set or just simply one set to failure.
It is one of the most common ways of training in the past decades for older bodybuilders and strength athletes.
This was a popular concept for Dorian Yates, and Stan Efferding as well, explaining that in your workout everything except the heaviest weight you are doing is just warming up.
You are really just doing one heavy growth set and that would be the end of your workouts.
Nowadays, newer lifters are taking this concept to the extreme and not focusing on the boring, dull component of growing strength and size - eating, resting, sleeping and just relaxing.
They are adding more exercises, more sets, more of everything you could do in the gym.
Their focus is in the wrong direction and they should scale their workouts back and try to recover harder.
Beginners who are doing any 3x5s or 5x5s
This article does not apply to you because you need to train hard.
On your first or second set, you may feel you have extra reps.
And by the time you do your last set of 5s, you feel like you are training to failure.
As a beginner, you have the capability of recovering from these tough workouts and be able to do it again on your next training day.
This will only apply to beginners though.
Or you may feel that even your first set is pretty close to failure. Close.
But it is not truly failure.
And if you do fail, follow your program’s deload and autoregulation protocol when you fail a set.
This is an excellent learning opportunity.
So, do not waste it.
Training to failure may not be suitable for everyone.
In fact, a majority of lifters should opt not to use this training method.
Simply put, many newer lifters lack the awareness to properly utilize this method to its full potential.
And then they get hurt, they will not take responsibility for their actions and try to blame a program for their mistakes.
Train hard but also train smartly.
You must have both.
Otherwise, you are leaving a lot of potential and progress on the table when it should be yours.
Take what is yours and be Relentless.