T Nation

Failure

I am looking to gain mass and I would like to know what others thoughts are on training to failure and if it is the optimal way to increase lbm. I am merely talking about training until no more repetitions can be completed in the concentric part of the lift in good form not forced reps or negatives as I work out alone and don’t use these techniuqes.

In general, avoid concentric failure. Your last rep should be in perfect form but damn hard. This is Charles Staley’s philosophy.

Ian King has an approach in which you go to failure or very close on the third workout in a three-week cycle.

So the first workout, you get used to the exercise. Add more weight the next week and go as hard as you can without failing. Third week, add more weight, and don't be afraid for the form to deteriorate on the last set of the exercise (at least for a couple of exercises). This is the best approach I know that incorporates failure. You will get bigger and stronger by staying away from it most of the time. Brian

Over the last 6weeks I’ve been doing a Pavel style workout 5x5 all compound exercises NOT taken to failure with great results.I don’t think I’ll ever go to failure again.My recovery with this workout along with Surge is amazing. Just make sure you consume enough calories thoughout the day and you will GROW!Do a search for the Evil Russian and read it

I’ve trained to failure in the past and did pretty good. Now by studying material on strength training, i’ve found out that I was setting myself up for future failure… Basically, you’ve probably heard of the Golgi Tendon, well if not then here’s a short description in my own words. The Golgi Tendon is a tendon that is designed to protect a muscle from over-stretching to the point that it might tear or rupture. If you might remember lifting in the gym and maybe you or someone you know lets the weights down a little too quickly, you find it’s a little easier to get the weight up with a “little” bounce at the stretch position of an exercise. Well, that’s the Golgi Tendon at work trying to keep you from hurting the muscle. Now, how training to FAILURE comes into play is that this “tendon” has a REALLY conservative nature. It doesn’t like you to get near to using a really heavy weight that might injure yourself. So, what the Golgi Tendon does is increase the efficiency of itself by working sooner. If your muscle is being stressed/stretched to “it’s” percieved limit, this means it thinks it might hurt itself, the muscle has basically two different actions it can perform for “self-preservation”. One is to contract the muscle (Golgi Tendon firing), or number two is for the muscle to completely relax or go dead/limp/kaputz. This is the failure you get in a muscle.

Now that i’ve talked for a little bit, the catcher here is that if you start training to failure, the Golgi Tendon will increase the probability of quitting/failure because you are making your body “more-efficient” at failing. So, if you train to failure, the margin where the body has option 1 or 2 is increased and you “quit” sooner than you should of. If you train so there is no failure in the workout, you don’t reach your limit and you can start to narrow the margin for possible failure, thereby making you stronger each time you lift. So, if anything sticks, remember this old saying, “Failure breeds Failure, and Success breeds Success”. Good luck lifting.

Gotta take exception at the “failure breeds failure” comment. While this may be true psychologically in sports performance and business, in lifting it just doesn’t pan out. The theory behind taking a lift to failure is that it’s the only point you know is 100%. The problem is knowing if it’s a psychological failure (you’re not giving 100% because it hurts) or a true MMF. I personally have done failure lifts for the last two years, with good gains. I tend not to do failure sets in squats or deads, just for safety sake, but all others are fair game to me. The big consideration here is to allow enough recovery before your next bout to allow muscle growth. This is the rub of HIT, and why it doesn’t work for a lot of people – they love to lift so much that they don’t wait long enough for recovery to occur. Hope that made sense.

Does anyone actually have any data to suggest that the golgi tendon organ actually adapts to strength training by causing muscular failure sooner? All the academic and scientific literature suggest that the GTO (inhibitory force feedback component) response is decreased with training while the muscle spindle apparatus (length feedback facilatory reflex) is enhanced. This means that the stretch phase of the lift is accompanied by higher muscle stiffness (due to muscle spindle) and an inhibition of relaxation (by the GTO). Im pretty sure there is no data to say that training to failure somehow “trains” the GTO to cause failure earlier. This response just doesnt make any sense from a physiological adaptive standpoint. After all, every training adaptation that occurs in response to training stress leads to GREATER load and force capabilities. Why would this one go in the opposite direction?

In addition, what are we talking about with the concept of "failure". Functionally, if you dont train with a spotter, you usually dont go to failure, do you? If you did, almost each set to failure (bench, squat, deadlift) would essentially bury you and you would need someone to lift it off your sorry butt. It seems to me the only way to lift to failure would be to go to this point and have a spotter lift it off you. If this is the definition, I rarely train to failure. My training partner rarely ever touches the bar unless I really get stuck. However, Im not always able to complete the last rep and do have to struggle to rack the weight after a half rep or something (I train in the power cage).

Psychologically, I think it doesnt make much sense to try to stop short of failure. You will probably underestimate the amount of reps you can do. Usually if you are focussed, you will be able to do 2 or 3 more after you think you've finished your last rep. This means that you probably are stopping far short of failure. I dont see a whole lot of benefit to this. In fact I see inadequate loading with this technique.

thank you mr. berardi with your reply, the exercises I use are usually dumbell presses and dips for chest and I do go to concentric failure on theses without the use of a spotter so just to clarify with what you stated before you believe in going to concentric failure on all sets except warm ups? thanks

It’s interesting to note how many people avoid going to failure on squats and deadlifts and continue to gain in strength and size. I started making the gains of my life when I stopped hitting failure on all lifts, going within 1-2 reps of absolute fatique. How do I define when I’m getting close to failure? I judge it by my concentric lifting speed. I usually lift in about 1 second ( one-thousand-one type count). At the point I lift in a slower speed, usually 3 seconds, I stop the lift. That signifies a breakdown of performance to me ala Staley/Tsatsouline.

I never gained much strength or size until I stopped training to failure. Say what you want but how many guys do you know that bench over 425 and train to failure on the bench press? The guys who make a lot of good strength gains never train to failure…its the guys who never make any progress who you see straining with their lifting partner yelling at them pulling the bar off their chest on every set. Follow the Ian King method of intensity periodization. Only train close to failure in the 3rd week of each microcycle.

Two questions here:
How do you know if you stop short of failure that you are some how performing the optimal amount of hard exercise, or if you are just being a pussy?
Also, if you know some people who bench alot of weight and don’t go to failure, how do you show causation as aposed to correlation? How much does their better technique, leverages, short limbs, shirts, centers of gravity, use of drugs and natural strength level contribute? Once you can quantify all that, the answer is easy.

John- Thanx for the clarification, I can’t find some of my notes where I read about training to failure at this moment, but what you said makes sense. I may have confused the concept in my head. A better approach to this topic might come from the angle of fatigue. If you train to failure, you might cause excessive fatigue in the muscles and CNS that would require the body possible longer rests between workouts meaning slower gains. If you don’t train to failure, you could possibly have quicker recovery between workouts and be able to train more frequently and make gains in shorter time. I think that might clarify things. Plus, you decrease the chance of overtraining from workouts and you’ll have more time and energy to chase members of the opposite sex!

hey let me say that if you do a bunch of juice you can do almost anything you want and still grow(if you stop growing do what most junkies do when they stop getting high, take more)but if you are drug-free keep your sets low and never workout 2 days in a row and after warmup ALWAYS train to failure. you will grow if you do either one of these. one Q, how could training to failure breed failure? I go up in reps or wt. EVERY work out so where is the failure? If anything quitting would breed failure.I wont go into all the other reasons to train to failure (if I do there will just be a bunch of people takeing over your post to say I’m crazy)check out cyberpump and get anything you can on mentzer. always remember to see if the people telling you to train “volume” are either selling sup’s(so you don’t “overtrain”) or some bulgarian system based on olympic lifting. good luck

Here’s my unscientific take on it. I always train to exhaustion and that sometimes means failure. Sometimes I just “know” that there are no more reps left and I won’t attempt another. Other times I mess up and think there is another one but there isn’t. My best example is bench press. I have such a good mind connection with my chest that I can tell if I got another rep even though that rep may take me 5-8 seconds to get up. I have never hit failure on squats simply because I am scared too, but I still hit it on leg press or machine squats. Like someone else said, just remember to take enough time off and let it heal and adapt before you do it again.

this is in response to brian’s statement of “don’t be afraid for the form to deteriorate on the last set of the exercise”…ALWAYS lift with the best form you possibly can…bad form leads to injuries…you really don’t want to blow a disc or injure your knees through something stupid like fucking up squat form

For years I trained to failure on everything but squats, and barely got stronger, except on squats. It was very depressing to bust my ass in the gym for little reward. I think some people can handle training to failure often, but others like me have to be more careful working out. I’ve recently started lifting lighter weights for low reps, and it’s getting me stronger, and I’m excited about working out again.

To paraphrase Bill Kazmaier, “always leave a little in the tank when you leave the gym.”

Training to failure is pretty physically and neurologically draining. If you’re just training for mass it may be good to do occasionally, the way Ian King suggests. I don’t think it’s a good idea for athletes, though.

About 20 years ago I met a realy strong and built Power Lifter/ Bodybuilder who I put the same question to. I still remember his answer. He said simply “Failure Fails”. Being Stuborn, pigheaded and young it was not until some 15 years later when I first started not training to failure and, even though older, made the best gains of my life> drug free too!!