Discovering Whether Training to Failure Is Necessary for Muscle Growth


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?

After all, coaches and athletes are always looking for recommendations. In this sense, it is difficult to get wet with such a controversial topic since at certain times it is not interesting but at others. At a general level, we can confirm that training every day to the failure will not be positive to increase muscle mass or strength. In addition, if we start training with very demanding exercises such as squat or deadlift and we reach muscle failure, the central nervous system will be exhausted for the rest of the training. On the other hand, in more analytical exercises if you can reach the failure in some series with the aim of knowing if you are really training near muscle failure.


The best method to increase muscle mass and strength

The real way to keep good control of your workout and know if you’re close to failure or not is to work with a speed training system. If there is something we already know, it is that the speed of execution will mark the intensity of the training. If I move at a low speed I will know that the training is very intense. In this sense, we recommend using a linear encoder such as the Vitruve linear encoder that allows you to measure the speed of execution and keep track of the training load.

In addition, by knowing the speed of execution I can program the speed at which I am going to make the approximation series, the first two series and the second two series . That is, through the linear encoder of Vitruve I will have a momentary control of the training and I will know based on the speed when I am close tothe failure. For example, if the feeling I have is of total fatigue, but I keep moving the load at 0.8 m/s I will know that I am very far from the failure. Use a speed training device and improve your workouts!



Failure training is a somewhat obsolitary training system. Even though the great athletes of bodybuilding used it, it was only a way to make sure they reached the required intensity. However, we currently have numerous technologies such as the Vitruve linear encoder that allows us to quantify our training much better. Therefore, if you have to perform a series of failures because you like it or because you need it to know where your muscle failure is, do not hesitate to do it, but do not train in this systematic form because in the end you will end up losing muscle mass.

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