T Nation

Lifitng to Failure or Not?


Hi, I know there's a lot of stuff already out there but I tend to learn better more interactively. Quick bio - I used to lift a lot from about 14-28 years old. I then took off the last 10 years. I read a lot back then about lifting but a) a lot of information is outdated and b) I either probably misunderstood a lot or relied too much on gym myths.

Back then we used to always lift to failure, do extra assisted reps, drop sets, negatives, burnouts.....anything and everything to push ourselves. I've been reading a lot on this site and it seems like we were just doing it wrong.

I'm currently following 5/3/1* with BB assistance for my bench press and squat. What is the consensus on lifting to failure, and what is the rationale behind it?


*Yes I know, I should buy and read the book.


For most strength training problems they recommend NOT training to failure. Form degrades and all it does is prolong recovery time. It's best to leave a rep or two in the tank and get into the gym consistently and work on constant progression. Strength training is a numbers game more than anything.

However, training to failure does have a place in bodybuilding routines.



Ill add, reading something someone typed in response to your question isnt more interactive than reading the typed words in the book. Pay the man his dues, and then ask the question if you are still unclear.


There's a difference between failing a lift you tried to make and making failure the goal of the set.


I train to failure often. Especially early on in training. Training smart to failure can really help develop weaknesses and lagging muscle groups. It gets a bad wrap because people either do it too much or don't do it with the right exercises at the right time in training.


Reading your response can I safely guess that you don't have a background cognitive learning?

I caution any reply, because if you do we would be interacting and you'd be caught in a contradiction.


Thanks. I remember reading a post of yours about the subject which I believe lead me to an article on T-Nation. It was pretty informative.


I guess what I was getting at was the idea of failing the lift, but pushing hard to make it with assistance.


I would be guessing when one is not doing a meet for while on lighter and isolation exercises?


If your doing the 5 3 1, here's what the programs author had to say

From Blood and Chalk 11:

T NATION: Hey Jim, I'm a bodybuilder at heart. When should accessories be taken to failure?

JW: This is easy to answer. If the assistance lift is a multi-joint assistance lift and requires mental preparation, technique, balance, coordination (front squat, good morning, safety bar squat, Romanian deadlift, etc.) it's best that it not be done to failure. The risk-reward ratio isn't good.

Now if the lift is "easy" (face pulls, rear laterals, triceps pushdowns, curls, shrugs), then have at it. You can take most of these lifts to failure, get a good pump, and have no negative consequences to your training. These are the lifts you can mess around with, do some higher reps, and do what many people call "bulletproofing" the body ? flush blood into muscles and allow for hypertrophy without the strain of bigger weights and movements on the joints.

Think about it this way: train the big lifts "smart" and the easy lifts "hard."


Training to failure for me leads quickly to over training. I like to psyche up for each set (but have lately laid off) and training to failure seems to quicken my decent into over training.


My recent story on how to NOT train to failure:

Decide you are going to get 5 reps on your heavy squat (single squat) of your 5/3/1 cycle

Decide this on a day you have a fever

Fail on 4th. Claim you will finish the last two

Fail next set for 0 reps. Get 1 rep in the next set. Get zero again. Get zero again. Get zero again.

Go home with a much higher fever which leaves you unable to sleep and is fucking with your body still a week later.


Hey, thanks again everyone. In my years I've actually coaches a lot of sports (primarily track and field / distance running) and it seems as though the theme with lifting is very similar.

What I have always told people about working less is that the harder you work today, the less you'll be able to do tomorrow. Improvement has a lot more to do with consistency and gradual improvement over long periods of time than it does with killing yourself in today's workout.

....having said that, some people need a kick in the ass because they have the opposite problem.

Again, thanks!