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Should you train to failure?

Should you train to failure?

There are many ways of periodizing or putting together a program. What we will be focusing on today is the “repetition to failure” modality. This manifest itself in taking an exercise and performing as many repetitions as possible with a specific load, until you literally can not contract the muscle or perform the full range of motion exercise.

Why would anyone do this?

The classic excuse in the body building world it is because it causes a response that tells the muscle to grow, it gives the muscle a very pump/full feeling, also leaves you with a very satisfying sensations of achievement.

A group of scientists postulated questions about the efficacy of this training style and asked the following.

Does training to failure elicit greater hypertrophy, strength, and endurance responses than non-failure training in young women?

Let us introduce to our subjects, how these women were broken down into different groups, what the finding were and applications for real world scenarios.

The scientist were able to recruit a large group of women ,89 to be precise, and performed barbell bicep curls 2 times per week over 10 weeks. They took measurements of 1 rep max, muscular thickness and muscular endurance at pre-mid-post study and this is how the groups were divided.

  • Group 1: 30 women performed 3 sets to failure @ 70% of 1 rep max on barbell bicep curl (RF: reps to failure)

  • Group 2: 32 women performed not reps to failure 4 sets of 7 @ 70% with equal volume equated as RF (RNFV: reps not to failure volume equated)

  • Group 3: 27 women performed not reps to failure 3 sets of 7 @ 70% which purposely had lower volume than the 2 other groups (RNF: reps not to failure)

Strength was measured in 1 rep max barbell bicep curl, bicep hypertrophy or muscle thickness was measured via ultrasound, and endurance via max reps @ 70% of 1 RM.


Pertaining strength, the were no significant between group differences in 1 RM max barbell bicep curl at either mid- post study. All group significantly increased strength from pre-mid-post study.

For hypertrophy both the reps to failure (RF) and reps to failure with volume equated (RNFV) increased muscle thickness from mid-post study. No significant difference were found in the reps not to failure group (RNF)

For muscular endurance all groups significantly increased number of repetitions performed at 70% of 1 RM. However, no differences were noticed between groups.

This study goes to show, when volume is equated, how training to failure is not a necessity for growth or strength. Which may come as a surprise to some people, especially in the body building circles. I am not disregarding this training modality at all; it can still be applied to a program if it is strategically prescribed. I can see it being applied towards the end of a cycle, then reduce volume to recover and mitigate fatigue, it should not be applied at the beginning or novice lifters without first setting a foundation.


This is a great study because it shows the differences between groups quite clearly and what the finding were. However, I would not recommend “reps to failure” to be applied in big compound movements such as squat, bench, deadlift or any of the weightlifting movements, due to the complexity of each and the high level of skill it requires to execute it safely. My recommendation as previously stated, it can be applied towards the end of a cycle, also aim for more isolating/ machine-based exercises where it can be executed safely.

References: MASS Volume 1, Issue 5

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