Discovering Whether Training to Failure Is Necessary for Muscle Growth

Discovering Whether Training to Failure Is Necessary for Muscle Growth

Written by Vitruve Team

10 February, 2022

The old hands from the gym only know one thing: that execution to muscle failure (in addition to strain and tension) should be a prerequisite for the muscle growth stimulus. This means that if you do not do push-ups, squats, or other exercises to the point of complete fatigue, you will hardly achieve muscle growth. Train as hard as you can, i.e. until your muscles give out – in every set. In modern training science in particular, however, training to the point of muscle failure is increasingly being discouraged. Who is right?

What Is Muscle Failure?

Muscle failure is short-term muscle relaxation that leads to the fact that you cannot complete another cleanly executed repetition in the training. You must then complete the set, or at least pause until you can do another rep. The point of muscle-building training is to exhaust your muscles in such a way that they adapt to the high load and thus become stronger and bigger. So, training for absolute muscle failure sounds logical, right? Because if you put less strain on your muscles, you would stimulate them to grow less. Training for muscle failure is, therefore, a matter of course for most athletes. Methods have even been developed over the years to train past failure, using intensity techniques such as drop sets, rest sets, or forced reps with a partner.

What Happens in Muscle Failure?

When a muscle fails, the nerves that control muscle fibers can no longer activate enough of them at the same time. Technically, a distinction is made between concentric and eccentric muscle failure. In the first case, the weight cannot be lifted one more time (e.g barbell bench press); with the latter, lowering or returning the weight is no longer possible. Muscle failure isn’t limited to weight training, of course, you can also hit this limit with bodyweight exercises.

Discovering Whether Training to Failure Is Necessary for Muscle Growth

Does Training To Failure Make Sense?

If you want to build muscle, you have to train hard. Both proponents and opponents of the muscle failure concept agree. However, many experts believe that training to the point of total muscle exhaustion is not only unnecessary, but it is also actually counterproductive because the body cannot recover sufficiently afterward and the muscles, therefore, do not grow optimally. Because regeneration is just as important for muscle building as training.

The approach taken by opponents of failure is to train with more weight and fewer reps. Going to failure would then no longer be necessary because the weight is heavy enough to stimulate the muscles. That’s what weightlifters do, for example. They rarely train to failure and still have built impressive musculature and lots of strength. Now the question is who is right? As is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Benefits Of Training To Failure

It’s not for nothing that the concept of training to failure has been around for decades, it obviously works. Sports science shows that the more intense the workout, the more fast-twitch muscle fibers are activated. And they are particularly important for building muscle and strength. One study also found that training to failure boosts the release of hormones like HGH and testosterone, which are also important for muscle building. In addition, muscle loading logically increases with more intense training and, as mentioned above, muscle loading is the key to muscle growth as your body tries to adapt to the load and therefore becomes stronger.

Disadvantages Of Training To Failure

The flip side of the coin is that there is evidence that training to failure significantly increases levels of the hormone cortisol, and cortisol suppresses muscle growth. In one study, the production of an insulin-like growth factor, which is beneficial for muscle growth, also decreased. In addition, muscles that have been trained to the point of absolute exhaustion need more time to regenerate. So if you constantly train to the point of total exhaustion, you risk declining muscle growth in the long term. 

In addition: Intensive training not only puts a strain on the muscles but also on the central nervous system (CNS) – controls the use of your muscles – and that takes much longer to recover than the muscles. Studies have shown that constant overloading of the nervous system leads to less intensive training over the long term. To put it exaggeratedly: If you constantly work to the point of muscle failure, you will lose valuable potential in the long run because your nervous system only allows you to train on the back burner. Training to failure can also be disadvantageous for safety reasons, at least if you’re training alone. If there is no training partner available, it can be quite dangerous if your muscle e.g. B. with heavy bench press or squats. Muscle, joint, ligament, or tendon injuries can be the result.

Discovering Whether Training to Failure Is Necessary for Muscle Growth

So, What Is Recommended?

We recommend stopping just before muscle failure for heavy exercises that place particular demands on the central nervous system, e.g. B. squats, deadlifts, and presses with free weights. Choose your weight so that you can always train cleanly and explosively. As soon as you notice that execution speed and explosiveness decrease, stop. For exercises that are less demanding on the nervous system, such as machine presses and isolation exercises, feel free to work to failure on at least one set per exercise and even go beyond with intensity techniques.


Muscle failure needs to be properly defined before we can pass judgment on it. If you look at it as the last possible repetition in the classic hypertrophy area, then amazing successes are possible. But anyone who assumes that pure failure, no matter what kind, provides the incentive to build up is wrong. Likewise, anyone who assumes that there are no other methods for super muscle building apart from the intensive last possible repetitions is wrong. As with anything, you have to try it. With these ideas in mind, you’re sure to find your perfect dosage and regimen in no time!

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Sports Science Degree. Crossfit trainer, in love with weightlifting and digital marketing

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