T Nation

Go to Failure or Leave Reps in the Tank?


#1

What's the thought process behind doing repetitions to failure versus stopping a couple reps early? I don't burn myself out, but I go to failure on virtually all sets not including warm ups. Is training to failure not the best method for hypertrophy, fat loss, and strength training?


#2

Training to failure produces more stress on the muscles and IMO causes the body to adapt. I train to failure on all my top sets of my exercises. granted failure doen't mean to get your last rep by lifting sloppy but I think training to failure and occasionally getting a forced rep is a great way to grow and get stronger. I think most people that leave gas in the tank are working out like pussies, notice I said most not all.


#3

Your going to get 10 different answers to your question. I think it all comes down to the frequency of your workouts amongst other things such as reps, sets, duration of your workouts. I think you would be short changing yourself if you didn't go to failure on a few of your sets. I personally like to ramp the weights up and do 2 sets to failure for each exercise. In this case you would not take every set to failure, just the last 2. Lots of articles on T-Nation that talk about ramping and doing sets to failure.


#4

It depends on a lot of things, not least whether or not you have a spotter! If you're doing DC training, you want to go to failure on your working sets. Not all routines specify this. When I was doing 5/3/1 I was stopping short of failure, which is part of the program.


#5

For me, frequency is the biggest indicator of whether I go to failure or not. Going to failure is very stressful on the nervous system, if you are doing it a lot in a workout, it's going to need time to recover.

The other thing to note is that as you get stronger, going to failure becomes more an more taxing energy wise in your workout. In my experience a 10RM at say 315 is way more exhausting than a 10RM of 225, even though both are pushing to the limit of strength capability. Once the weights get up there, even warm ups get taxing.

Currently I'm not going to failure at all, but I'm squatting twice a week, pulling twice a week, and benching 3 times a week.


#6

I agree guys. I feel going to failure triggers a response to get stronger and with more endurance. The body adapts to whatever is thrown at it so you might as well go hard or go home imo. Recovery is one thing, but for gains of any sort I can't help but think leaving gas in the tank is sending your body the wrong message.


#7

For me, when not training to failure, I NEED a higher frequency to get results.

Also, when constantly training to failure, I am very close to fucking things up. Everything needs to be in place; nutrition, rest etc otherwise I'll make myself ill or plateau within weeks of beginning a new rotation.

Training to failure consistently requires a real knowledge of your body and recovery capacity. Higher volume "typical" bodybuilding workouts have a greater margin for error, at least IME.


#8

Dave I sent you a pm last night! check your box

anyways I train to failure most the time. I mean if you're trying to get somewhere in bodybuilding, I feel it's mandatory. Only time I'm leaving reps in the tank is if I'm feeling crappy that day. I work more on form, drop weight etc. etc.....


#9

I just wanted to point out that not going to failure doesn't equal training easy. I just was watching the video of big kirk squatting 1000 pounds for a double. technically, that wasn't going to failure for him.


#10

Lifting a weight until you can't lift it anymore is one of the most basic and fundamental aspects of getting bigger and stronger.


#11

imo to get the most adaptation possible when training to failure i like a full body workout made of compound movements. 2 heavy sets (6-8rep range although im shooting for failure not a number) and a third dropset taking each one to failure. Doing a full body workout to failure is extreemly taxing and i only do this twice a week with accesories in between (high bloodflow through muscles). The microtrauma and metabolic demand keeps me growing and lean and my body is almost constantly grabbing the "o-shit handle" and being forced to adapt and change... but if i ever want to put any prs up a light week is needed.

i've found this works very well only if nutrition is in order and intensity is high. if you cant go into these workouts shaking and pissed off they arnt worth it. Training to failure is such a headgame i agree with austin in the statement that many cant hack it because they lack the balls. the term failure is thrown around way too much to be taken seriously...


#12

This, and the more of a beginner you are, the more you should focus on leaving something in the tank so you can hit PR's. Dont worry about the failure, worry about progressing. When you are big and strong you can fail.


#13

I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with most of you. I don't think going to failure is imperative for growth at all. It can even be counter productive. Yeah, it gives you a good burn, but so does lighting yourself on fire, it doesn't mean it builds muscle.

This is something I've come to realize recently. I can do more volume even at a given weight, not going to failure.

For instance my bench: going to failure at 315, I have gotten up to 10 reps. However, after I do that, I'm done. Nervous system fried, energy drained, ridiculous numbing, immobilizing burn. I can essentially do no more real work on those muscle groups that day. However, I can do sets of 3 on 315 until the cows come home.

I get better growth out of an 8 by 3 (24 reps) than a 1 x 10 (10 reps) with 315.

Total reps are important, I think maybe more so than set/rep schemes, and failure sets generally lower the volume of a workout and greatly increase time needed for recovery. So not only can I do more reps in a workout I can train muscle groups more frequently.

I don't like failure sets and certain don't consider them necessary for growth.


#14

Good points by DoubleDuce.

There is a trade-off between WORK (sets x reps x frequency) and FAILURE (muscular fatigue). Both produce results but when one goes up the other must come down. Or else you'll burn yourself out neurologically.

I believe in the concept of 'full rep failure'. That is, stopping each working set after completing the LAST FULL REP you can in good form. So you don't attempt the rep that you're going to fail on (like HIT purists would expect).

You do need a bit of experience to gauge this - beginners usually have more reps in them than they think they do. So it is worthwhile for inexperienced trainees to push to failure/fatigue every so often, to learn where this point really is.

I've found this method of 'full rep failure' is the best method for consistent long-term gains as it allows you to manage overly stressing your nervous system (as compared to going to absolute failure), while still having you work hard enough to stimulate growth. You can also train each muscle group more frequently this way, meaning faster gains.


#15

Hm. We haven't had that debate in a while...

Depends on your routine etc. Can't be answered just like that.

We could pit DC (or even, once again pX and co, whose reps are all over the place as they go from 1-2 reps at a certain weight to 8-12 eventually) against your theories here and then what? Both ways obviously work... I may not be doing 30 reps with my 3RM or whatever on the deadlift there, but those 1-2 failure sets I am doing allow for a crazy increase in size and strength in a fairly short period of time (in combination with all the other factors involved)...

You can train to failure, beyond failure, or stop short of failure... All of those styles can be made to work pretty much as well as can be. But all have their individual downsides (general/"CNS" fatigue accumulation vs. joint/tendon degradation and so on).
Just pick one you have the most affinity for/what doesn't clash too much with your other activities is what I'd say...

Going to failure and beyond does neither allow for a crazy amount of volume (for most), nor should you need it (if you do, you're going about things the wrong way) in that case.

Do you really get so much more growth from 8x3 vs. 3x8, or are you simply not making enough progress on your high-rep work? 3x8 at the same weight and to failure is not something done in DC and most/all "good" failure/beyond failure -based routines or even standard bb training. It's simply not a "fast" way to get strong for most, unless chemical help is involved.

You can also go higher in frequency when going to failure... Never had a problem with it, as long as I just don't do too many sets/exercises... All comes down to how you organize your training, what your diet and sleep patterns are like... I've trained every bodypart 3 times a week while going to failure on multiple sets per exercise on a 2-way split (usually 1 exercise per bodypart trained in that session)... Full 6 days on. Great strength gains... So has Modok (for a much longer period of time compared to me, heck, he got most of his size from that) and so has DH. Check the Big Beyond Belief thread...
If I were to do that again, I'd drop working sets down to 1 per exercise and change the split somewhat (still a 2-way, but with more rest for the shoulders and a bit more back work perhaps).

Here's a bit of an odd discovery I made about my own training:
If I train bodyparts at a low frequency (once a week, or once every 5 days or whatever), then doing, say, 4x8 or so doesn't do shit. It just doesn't allow me to get strong fast enough.
A single top set, or two at different rep ranges or so work much better for me in that case.
They still work well when I go high frequency (2-3 times a week per bodypart), but in that case, 4x8 also suddenly works (though I don't like it much). Weird, goes kind of against the whole "the more frequently you train, the less volume you can do per session" thing (in a sets per exercise kind of way, I mean, and I'm excluding multiple low-rep sets completely here as those work in both cases... I'm just not too fond of them unless they're ramped).


#16

Ah, blast that quote function...


#17

Well, since its topical........

Izquierdo, Mikel, et al Differential effects of strength training leading
to failure versus not to failure on hormonal responses, strength, and
muscle power gains. J Appl Physiol 100: 1647-1656, 2006.

The purpose of this study was to examine the efficacy of 11 wk of
resistance training to failure vs. nonfailure, followed by an identical
5-wk peaking period of maximal strength and power training for both
groups as well as to examine the underlying physiological changes in
basal circulating anabolic and catabolic hormones. Forty-two physically
active men were matched and then randomly assigned to either
a training to failure (RF), nonfailure (NRF), or
control groups (C).

Both RF and NRF resulted in similar gains in 1-repetition maximum bench press
(23 and 23%) and parallel squat (22 and 23%), muscle power output
of the arm (27 and 28%) and leg extensor muscles (26 and 29%), and
maximal number of repetitions performed during parallel squat (66
and 69%).

RF group experienced larger gains in the maximal number
of repetitions performed during the bench press. The peaking phase
(T2 to T3) after NRF resulted in larger gains in muscle power output
of the lower extremities, whereas after RF it resulted in larger gains in
the maximal number of repetitions performed during the bench press.

Strength training leading to RF resulted in reductions in resting
concentrations of IGF-1 and elevations in IGFBP-3, whereas NRF
resulted in reduced resting cortisol concentrations and an elevation in
resting serum total testosterone concentration.

This investigation demonstrated a potential beneficial stimulus of NRF for improving
strength and power, especially during the subsequent peaking training
period, whereas performing sets to failure resulted in greater gains in
local muscular endurance. Elevation in IGFBP-3 after resistance
training may have been compensatory to accommodate the reduction
in IGF-1 to preserve IGF availability.

SO

They didn't really show shit all for the difference. Total volumes were matched between the groups, and the hormonal differences don't mean dick.

IMO, since the results show an improved training volume in the RF group in their common rebound period, that's what I think they proved works best.

IMO, training to failure is the way to go.


#18

In the past I would have said stopping short of failure lead to better progress than failure.

After doing a few blasts on DC training to failure has helped me progress some areas that are slow to progress. Obviously volume on DC is lower than most routines.


#19

In response to c-c I thought I'd highlight some things in my previous post:

I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with most of you. I don't think going to failure is imperative for growth at all. It can even be counter productive. Yeah, it gives you a good burn, but so does lighting yourself on fire, it doesn't mean it builds muscle.

This is something I've come to realize recently. I can do more volume even at a given weight, not going to failure.

For instance my bench: going to failure at 315, I have gotten up to 10 reps. However, after I do that, I'm done. Nervous system fried, energy drained, ridiculous numbing, immobilizing burn. I can essentially do no more real work on those muscle groups that day. However, I can do sets of 3 on 315 until the cows come home.

I get better growth out of an 8 by 3 (24 reps) than a 1 x 10 (10 reps) with 315.

Total reps are important, I think maybe more so than set/rep schemes, and failure sets generally lower the volume of a workout and greatly increase time needed for recovery. So not only can I do more reps in a workout I can train muscle groups more frequently.

I don't like failure sets and certain don't consider them necessary for growth.

The general attitude of this thread was that failure was the only real way to gain, and pretty much if you didn't you're a pussy. This just isn't the case.


#20

and the person.

that would be impressive

I agree and one thing my workouts aren't is short.

exactly

I cannot do a 3x8 with the same weight

Volume frequency and intesity are all inversely proportional. here you are trading volume for frequency and intensity, which I agree, it can work. My point is not to say that it doesn't. just that high intensity isn't the only way to grow, and I don't prefer it. I tend to accumulate joint problems and injuries when I do.

no wonder you stick to a low number of exercises. hah.

This makes me question all your advice, as you are obviously a freak of nature. HAHA!