Training to muscular failure is a hot topic in the bodybuilding world. There are different approaches to training and great bodybuilders that have been successful training going to failure and others have been successful with the mentality of stimulating not annihilating the muscle. Who is right? What should you do?
What is training to failure anyway?
Training to failure is getting to the point that you cannot longer perform another repetition with decent form or needing a spotter. Bro’s will often train beyond failure since they will grab the bench press when you no longer can perform another rep. This is going to beyond failure.
Training to failure has also been popular in pro bodybuilders like 6x Mr Olympia Dorian Yates. Other bodybuilders like 8 time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney preach the Stimulate. Don’t annihilate the muscle. Of course to be a Mr Olympia you need to have top tier genetics. But my point is that both approaches can build a great physique. Anecdotal evidence suggests that both training to failure and not training to failure can produce the results the we are looking for. But what about training to failure when it comes to dangerous exercises?
Training to failure in the big 3 lifts
I will start by saying that you should not train to failure in the “big 3” exercises (barbell squats, barbell bench press and barbell deadlift) Let me explain why:
Those are 10 painful minutes man… and i don’t want to know what the hell happened to all of our gym bros in that video, i don’t want that to happen to you! If you are training with safety pins that is great! you will avoid dropping the bar in your body. Dropping the bar on your neck is the worst scenario and it has happened before. In my opinion there is only so much a spotter can do for you and when we talk about bodybuilding you can overload the chest with safer exercises such as dumbbell presses or hammer strenght machines.
I am not telling you not to bench press but you should be careful and bench with safety pins. The other downside of training to failure with the bench press is the potential pec tear. I won’t post a video about that but you get the point. Almost all the time someone tears a pec they will do that on a flat bench press. Make sure that you can control the weight of the bench press and that you leave you ego at the door if you are focusing on just bodybuilding.
Training to failure with squats and dead lifts can also be dangerous. You can get injured and the injury can leave you out of the gym for a few months. So when performing this exercises just make sure you do not go to absolute failure, have good form and that you have the proper security measures.
When is it safe to train to failure?
If you choose to train to failure, it is important that you do it in the right way with the right exercises. Isolation exercises are generally safe for you to train to failure, as well as machine and maybe some compound exercises with dumbbells like Romanian deadlifts, rows, and some dumbbell presses. Training to failure can be a part of your arsenal but you need to be sure that you do it safely and decrease the risk of injury.
Should you train to failure?
The reality is that studies have confirmed that training to failure is not necessary for the body to make hypertrophic adaptations, aka to build muscle. But, lets discuss some of the potential errors in the studies.
People often will say they left 1 rep in the tank and they really leave about 3 or 4, and when we compare this with actual failure, this actually says to us that we can stop before failure and make gains, more than we thought. But most studies won’t look at the really long term results, in the span of 2 years for example. So training or not training to failure in the long run may have other long term effects that we are not aware. In this case, we can see personal experience. Who are the ones that have the best physiques? Who are the ones that make drastic changes to their bodies? A lot of research is also done in newbie lifters, and we know that if we grab a newbie and make them train, they will grow no matter what.
Take this study as an example, in concluded that trained(experienced) individuals will benefit more to training to failure and newbies don’t actually need to train to failure. Here is the thing, you should manage volume, intensity and frequency properly. As a rule, the more you do, you can get away with training just close to failure. In the other hand, if you have low frequency and low volume you should aim to go to failure but just in safe exercises. Remember that going to failure on a squat, bench, dead lift, standing press or row is dangerous and you shouldn’t really do a 1 rm for those lifts if your goal is muscle growth only.
The reality about training to failure
Training to failure is a tool that experience lifters with good recovery should use in their training sporadically, this means that you can train to failure in mainly isolation of safe compound exercises. If you are a newbie just learn the movements and learn to connect to the muscles. Just use common sense with the exercise selection and make sure that you don’t get hurt in the process. Hypertrophy and strength will come if you do the right things repeatedly. There are other aspects of training that are also important such as contraction quality and volume. Remember that you can still make gains without going to absolute failure so if recovery is your main concern just keep this in mind. If you have everything in check then use the guidelines mentioned in this article!