Failure Optimal for Hypertrophy

Wow CT, epic article today. I like how the first two points hit the crux of training (for size): low reps, powerfully executed, chase performance vs. trash the muscle to failure

Your stance has definitely changed at least compared to last several years (your early works talk about hitting failure much more). I get the message and just had a few thoughts, if you care to entertain:

  1. What explains built for bad’s results? Zero isolation, minimal volume (high freq though), and never really hitting failure on big lifts
  2. The “signal” you talk about when one hits failure, that’s more likely CNS than muscle right? On any given day, depending on mood, preworkout stimulants, how “activated” I feel, how I do reps (piston 80% ROM, no lockout) failure can happen at 8 reps or 12 or 15 or 6. It’s kinda random, and for me is less appealing training style vs. performance (though I occasionally do prefer the liberated feel, 3 sets to failure don’t even count reps just go all out - Phil hernon style)
  3. This recent “study” is the one that’s all over fitness sites yeah? I think folks had presented some interesting counter arguments (related to participants being untrained, protocols and exercises used inefficient, etc.)
  4. In layers system, how do the clusters affect failure (since reps are separated by 10 seconds). Will definitely say my results only came when I worked hard on the layers (really hitting technical failure on each cluster set, and then on the single HDL set afterwards). Gainz were not had when I stopped a cluster set “short” of failure, when I knew had more reps in me
  5. If load is less relevant, could someone max out their physique (upper body at least) by just hopping on rings everyday, doing 3 sets to failure of chins and dips. Throw some tucked rows or flyes and handstand pushups? Looks like those buff dudes at the park are onto something…
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[quote=“Sigil, post:1, topic:213612”]
What explains built for bad’s results? Zero isolation, minimal volume (high freq though), and never really hitting failure on big lifts [/quote]

In retrospect I was ingesting 5 servings of PLAZMA per workout an 8-10 MAG-10 per day! We had them in ready to drink bottles in the fridge at Biotest HQ! So that did contribute.

And I’m not saying that you can’t stimulate muscle mass other ways. The frequency and overall workload on the BfB program was enough to stimulate a lot of growth. But again, it’s a blitz approach that can’t bu sustain for a very long time.

I don’t count reps either when I do my hypertrophy work. What I find is that I can still train for performance and do a small amount of hypertrophy work.

See if we go with the premise of my article you don’t actually need a lot of volume (sets) to stimulate hypertrophy if you go to failure. So let’s say that my biceps are not fully stimulated by performance training I can add 3 sets to failure (I do rest/pause sets) an stimulate a lot of growth in 10 minutes to complement the rest of the training.

From my experience when you train for performance some muscles will not get optimally developed and you will need some hypertrophy work.

[quote=“Sigil, post:1, topic:213612”]
This recent “study” is the one that’s all over fitness sites yeah? I think folks had presented some interesting counter arguments (related to participants being untrained, protocols and exercises used inefficient, etc.)[/quote]

I don’t know. I heard about the study when I gave a conference in Toronto. Dr.Stuart Philips was another of the speakers and his talk included this study. You can read it for yourself at: Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic gains in young men - PMC

I don’t really follow internet drama I prefer to make up my own mind. He also presented a study where 30% of 1RM to failure led to a greater protein synthesis than 90% to failure. We are talking about a direct response to training, which is not as affected by training status.

I understand that studies done on beginners have less “power” than those performed on advanced lifters but that doesn’t mean that the conclusion and observed phenomenons are not correct.

But you can’t please everybody and if a study goes against one’s belief he would rather find ways to discredit the study than to integrate the results in his training paradigm.


I know you’d like that, but no.

Did you miss the paragraph about how failure training is not optimal for complex movements because you will rarely actually hit failure in a muscle, only a point where the combine effort of all the muscles involve is not high enough to complete the lift. You reach movement failure, but not muscle failure.

Not to mention that as I said failure work should not be used on movements that have a high CNS stress.

Hi Christian, any suggestion how to implement failure training in a routine?

Say training every bodypart twice a week, one being compound movements Heavy and the other being isolationmovements to failure?

There are many possible approaches, but yes that is a very good way to do it.

Paul Carter also has an interesting approach where he does all his isolation work first, to failure (often on rest/pause sets) THEN finish the workout with the compound lift NOT to failure.

It is good that you clarify that something like BfB, or similar ones, are blitz approaches; not plans for long term development.

The folowing question is for long term development, like people that want a balanced approach between performance (strength and skills), and hypertrophy:

Regarding isolation exercises for assistance muscles (For example: Triceps for bench press; Biceps for rows), in the specific case of a strength cycle, could we say that it wouldn´t be a bad idea to do 2-3 sets to failure for them at the end of the workout?..Since they could be done with lets say 50% RM, and that that may have not a draining effect that could hurt the results of the strenght phase.

Thats under the reasoning of wanting to maintain and maximize the hypertrophy response, even during a strength phase

Great Article!

This article is going to drive some people crazy. I think a few are going to feel personally betrayed by you, however irrational that may be.

Question: I’ve done HIT past, revolving around the 20-rep squat. I made the greatest gains of my life.
But…(and there’s a wuss factor here, I admit) I did it doing 1 set. The idea of doing those breathing squats (which I puked doing a few times) for 3! sets! is scary, honestly. It turns the workout into a torture session. The intensity and emotional drain and resulting DOMS didn’t contribute to my quality of life during that year.

But 3 sets of lower reps, or 1 set of one exercise across 3 exercises for the same muscle (I guess pre-exhaustion would be sort of what I mean) sounds easier mentally but also that it would fit the overall dynamic requirements.

So if I’m reading you correctly, you’re not advocating 3 sets of a single rep (a max)–but would 3 sets of 2-4 reps done to failure and assuming it addresses the “feel” factor you mentioned, work? High rep leg work to failure, done for 1 set was enough to compromise my work ability (corrections facility), I can only imagine what 3 sets will do.

Again, there is a wuss factor, I admit–but crippling DOMS is a real threat to my well being, too.

Thanks for writing this article.

Yes that is a perfectly fine approach. Chinese Olympic lifter train that way.


I’m not betraying anybody. I still believe that the big compound lifts should be trained for performance like I always advocated.

I have simply introduced isolation exercises done to failure into the mix.

What you experienced with squats is one of the reasons why I believe that failure (and beyond) training should only be used on isolation or non-stressful exercises. Big compound lifts should not be trained to failure.

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Few people know this but for a fairly long time I was a firm HIT advocate.

I trained for performance when I played football from 15 to 18 (from 1992 to 1995). Our coach had us do bench press, squats, power cleans, deadlifts, push press and pull ups using a phase approach.

I started training in Olympic lifting in 1999.From the end of 1995 to the end of 1998 I trained mostly using HIT methods. I even wrote articles about that way of training on an amateur website. So for 2-3 years I was all about HIT. Read all the material available and believed in its science and logic.

The problem I had with HIT is that after experimenting I found that I got better results from doing more sets. And as one principle prove to be incorrect it crumbled my belief in the system. Then I trained for Olympic lifting for about 5 years which is about the furthest system from HIT.

Then from 2005 to 2008 I trained for competitive bodybuilding. I still had the high volume mindset developed from my years of Olympic lifting. I did train to failure a lot on isolation exercises though.

Then I moved back to the performance side of things. Mostly because bodybuilding left a sour taste in my mouth an I wanted to move far away from that style of training.

Now I’m more mature and can look at all my experience and see objectively what worked and what didn’t and for the first time in my life I’m designing my training objectively using the knowledge I accumulated over the years.


Like doing some machine work: Leg extension after squats, or Leg curls after DL.

I remember very clearly your remark about chinese olympic lifters but never imagine that they would do it like this. Great!

In fact I remeber that you also commented about some great past Olympic lifters that did perform very well, but did not look buff

Chinese lifters to a lot of lateral raises, front raises, triceps extensions, biceps curls, etc.

I think it’s very respectable and the indication of a good coach to constantly be reviewing new research and experience to help mold his opinions.

One who isn’t open to learn, never grows.


CT - Thanks for putting this article out. I’m dabbling with heavy days and muscular failure days and have two questions if you can help:

  1. What role can pre-exhaustion play here? For example, a sub-failure set of lateral raises before DB Hugh incline press. Doing 3 sets like this for a muscle group would not only unducr failure quickly with sub maximal weights, but wouldn’t it also entrain the mind-muscle connection needed to maximally contract the target muscle?

  2. Does failure training need to be cycled on/off to maintain the stimulus?

Thank you.

hey CT would this be a good example how to incorporate this approach: dumbell incline press for 8 reps for 3 sets on few angles (9 sets alltogether), 4 sets slow eccentric dips, and then 3 sets of cable crossovers to failure?

Seems like your double stimulation work out would bode well with this

That’s what I’m thinking. The issue is that people like coaches who say the same thing over and over because it makes them more secure. But I can promise you two things: (1) I will always look for ways to stimulate more progress (2) I will share these with you and they might modify some of my old beliefs

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That is actually one of the best possible applications

Just want to make sure I can understand how this could fit in. So something like:

Bench Press for whatever load/set/rep scheme

followed by:
DB Squeeze Press for 3 x AMRAP
Pushdowns for 3 x AMRAP

Is that how you’d suggest using this idea? Basically use it for bodybuilding assistance/accessory work related to the main lift.

Being an older lifter, I am always looking for a better way to stimulate growth without injury. At present I have found that a 3-4 second negative and a 1-2 second positive really helps with feeling the muscle work, so by lifting with a controlled tempo and doing a 3 exercise circuit starting with an isolation movement, ex. lateral to failure, then a slight angled rope upright row to failure and ending with behind the neck press to failure, I feel like I have fully brought the lateral delt to complete failure. I agree with CT that BTN press by itself to failure would not bring the side delt to the same degree of failure. I think you might be able to use compound exercises to failure if they are done after an isolation movement to failure.

This is essentially my question regarding prefatiguing a muscle with an isolation lift before a compound DB, cable, or band lift.

As a home basement lifter, I don’t have machines and only have rugged up one high cable so my options are more limited than at s regular gym. I wonder if prefatigue helps negate the neural intensity level of taking a compound DB lift to failure.