December 16, 2019

Should We Train to Failure?

Is it better to train to failure, or leave a couple of reps in the tank? 

So far the research has consistently favoured NOT training to failure or training to a relative intensity. 

However, much of the research to date has been conducted on untrained subjects, who, unsurprisingly don’t need to train anywhere near failure to make progress.  

What would the results be for highly trained subjects, who typically need a higher premium on load and fatigue management? 

To add a little clarity to the conversation a group of titans of both science and application got together and belted out this two-parter for us to enjoy. 

Mike Stone is a veritable don in the performance field and Brad DeWeese has numerous Olympic, World Cup and World Champions to his resume. 

An impressive group of operators to say the least.

Both studies looked intensely at muscle and performance outcomes from repetition maximum training compared to using a relative intensity in well-trained lifters. 

In almost all measures the relative intensity group outperformed the failure group, showing greater improvements in muscle size, fibre size, maximal strength, and rate of force development. Specifically, there was only a small between-group effect size for strength performance, with a moderate to large between-group effect size in favour of non-failure training for all other conditions. 

Overall, the studies concluded that for well-trained males, training to a relative intensity produced better outcomes compared to training to failure. Researchers suggest increased fatigue, delayed recovery and reported higher training strain associated with training to a repetition maximum as the likely reason for the results.

In short, when it comes to training to failure, there is a higher risk of injury and no juice for all that extra squeeze. 

1. Divergent Performance Outcomes Following Resistance Training Using Repetition Maximums or Relative Intensity. Carroll, et al. 2018
2. Skeletal Muscle Fiber Adaptations Following Resistance Training Using Repetition Maximums or Relative Intensity. Carroll, et al. 2019

Danny James

Danny James is a Strength and Conditioning Coach and Personal Trainer with over ten years of experience working with the fastest track and field youth athletes in the country. He lives in Sydney, Australia with his beautiful wife Fabiana. Sign up for Danny's free newsletter and receive tips, insights and exclusive email-only content.

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