T Nation

Lift to Failure?


When I read about lifting 5x5 and 10x3 its always the same weight so at least for the first few sets im not lifting to failure. I've always lifted to failure every set. Can someone explain to me when you want to to lift to failure and if there'e times that its beneficial to not lift to failure?


It's rarely good to go to failure. Generally speaking, it's simply too much to recover from. It's better to train something 3x/week at varying intensities (not to failure) than to train it once per week going to failure. The adaptations are simply better.

Going to failure once in a while will produce a large adaptation to an acute training bout, though, so do it maybe 1ce per month or so, depending on how well you recover and whatnot.



Just to add someone else's take on the issue, according to Chad Waterbury:

"Training to failure and multiple training sessions throughout the week mix about as well as Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. You can't train to failure on every set and expect to recover within 48-72 hours. Minimize any failure training to the last rep of the last set of each exercise (not each set). Even then, it should only be performed for maximal and hypertrophy strength parameters.

You should never approach failure when training for explosive strength: it?s counterproductive. If you seek a "sure thing," then stay away from failure training altogether."



No disrespect intended here but, what the fuck are you guys talking about!? I think training to failure at least half the time is required to make progress. Im not the strongest guy, nor the biggest but here's a couple stats, and keep in mind that I train to failure 80% of the time, 5-6 days per week and 6-8sets per bodypart.

18.5" arms (left 17.5" actually)
calves 19"
waist 31"(to demonstrate that I'm not a porker)
47" chest
weight 216 at 9%fat (I'm mostly pecs and lats, obviously)

deadlift 405*7
military 285*2(no spotter)
barbell curl 135*14
standing calf raise 815*13(no shit)
dip 90*7(never do benches)
squats 315*20(never go with low reps here)

These definately aren't overly impressive stats, but compared to the general public they're still pretty damn good. I think as long as you take supps, eat enough protein and carbs and avoid junk food, you can make tremendous progress training to failure. By taking a set to failure, I think you can set yourself a benchmark or goal for the next workout, which is awesome motivation. Besides, I dont think I need to tell you who mike mentzer(the competitive version), markus ruhl or kevin levrone are, do I? All it takes is dedication to make progress, training anyway you like...but this is just my opinion after all.


I think that training to failure may depend on your main goals are..general fitness?, muscular endrance?, mass?, power?... without a doubt I would say that training to failure is very important for power and size gains.


training to failure is only necessary when doing split routines. i have noticed that there has been a trend in t-nation articles from the trainers to not suggest train to failure.
this can be true to prevent overtraining for the absolute beginner or when doing full body training. however, when doing split routines that involves pure strength training at any rep/set scheme, i believe, that training to failure or near failure is necessary. then resting the week off from that muscle to recover for the next time one lifts for that muscle.

just my $.02 i could be wrong.


There is a difference betwee training UNTIL failure and training PAST failure. Obviously many times when you go for a new 1RM or 3RM max, you might hit failure. I know that often when I am going for a 3RM max-out (I rarely do 1RM max-outs), I miss the last rep one week, but I almost always come back and get it the next week.

A lot of times you need to train right up to the failure point to elicit maximum gains. However, training PAST failure is USUALLY not a good idea. This is what happens when you see guys in the gym who are doing their standard "5 reps benching on my own" and "5 reps with my partner rowing it up after I fail". Those are usually the same guys who don't really go anywhere. And when you think about it, even when you train dynamically, you are still training to the point of failure, you are just defining it differently. In a dynamic lift, failure is when your bar speed drops below a certain point and you are no longer producing the same amount of power. This is basically why you typically do something like 8-10 sets of 2-3 on dynamic exercises, because if you went to 8-10 reps, the last few would be past failure and wouldn't be dynamic anymore.

Obviously, there is a time and a place for all types of training and many people have had success with changing their program to an "HIT-style" training past failure program for a week or two to shock their system in a different way.

I think the bottom line is that every rep you do past failure increases the recovery time you need. Most coaches would take a slightly lowered stimulus in order to train more frequently. I think there is more of a compensation effect in training in that way.


This is all very interesting -different viewpoints on such a simple topic.


ok guys. some day i will better be able to explain this!

keep in mind this: the two primary systems being taxed when weight training are (1) the skelatal muscles and (2) the nervous system

training to failure HAMMERS the nervous system. the nervous system takes significantly longer to recover than do the muscles. repeated failure training leads to overtraining. while muscle may get sore, they will still function. what it means: muscles are more resilient that the nervous system.

Zatsiorsky said the following, a great recipe for success: "Train as often as possible while being as fresh as possible."

Someone else added in to "train as heavy as possible" (and as often as possible while being as fresh as possible).

Pavel said: "if you never train to failure, but go heavy; keep your reps low, sets low -- for example, 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps -- your muscles are torn down minimally. Mostly the adaptation comes in the nervous system; you learn to contract them harder. As a result of that, you're getting stronger, you recover from it immediately, and you're combat-ready all the time."

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Read every one of Chad Waterbury's articles. Frequency is the key to success!

Hope this helps,


Yeah, I agree with what Dan is saying there. Your nervous system has as much or more effect on your strength than your muscles. For instance, why train past failure with your bench and only train it once a week when you can go right up to the edge of failure (but still have a rep or a half-rep in the tank) and be able to recover faster so you can train your bench 3 times a week. When people overtrain I think it is not usually because their muscles can't handle the load, it is because their CNS never fully recovers (although I could be wrong about this). Of course, this also is more of a factor for advanced athletes. Someone who is just starting out is not neurologically efficient enough to really push their CNS to the limit.

A good example of this is the 1RM. An elite powerlifter will basically be toast after just doing warmup sets and getting a 1RM. However for a beginner, like me, a 1RM hardly feels like anything, because I'm not yet able to recruit all of my motor units when lifting. That is why most strength coaches recommend having beginners work on 3-5RM's for limit strength work.


Mentzer, Levrone and Ruhl are hardly individuals the genetically typical trainee should be emulating in their training. I have know doubt they know what works for them but I question whether or not they know anything about what will work for the average joe.

There are alot of articles on this site that explain the problems with training to failure. These articles are written by people who have backrounds in excersise science and years of experience training not only themselves but numerous clients with different bodytypes and abilities. I think this backround makes them the better source of informmation, and they all seem to agree that for most of us training to failure is not a good idea.

Check out Coach Staleys site for an article on HIT it may answer alot of specific questions you have.

I am stuck in an airport right now waiting for a flight.....so sorry if this sounds like a rant its not meant to be.....I am just bored as fuck.


If one should train to failure should be dictated by the situation. An athlete should rarely if ever train to failure.
Training to failure is hard on the nervous system, but you have to pull something out if you are going to introduce something so dramatic in your training. The best gains of my life came from a program that utilized rest-pause training, failure every set(no forced reps, concentric or eccentric failure only), and lower volume, but training the muscle 3 times in 10 days. The reason it worked so well for me and many others is because the volume is extremely low for each session, only one rest-pause set per muscle group(nothing like HIT, so don't even compare), but you are training to failure and with more frequency than a standard split.

If you are going to train a body part one time per week, I think going to failure definitely has it's place, but it does not belong in a full body routine.


The fact that you've had success training to failure with frequency means that it can work. But it doesn't mean that it's necessarily optimal for most people. And it clearly doesn't mean it is required to make progress as many of us on this site have made great progress using it sparingly and many of the programs on this site implement it sparingly or not at all.


So when I lift I should quit when I feel like I can do 1 or 2 more reps-will I get a good pump doing that?


The pump doesn't matter much; don't make it a goal. It's a good rule of thumb to leave a rep or two in the tank, though, you're right about that.

To the guy who posted his stats and whatnot - what are you calling failure? This term actually isn't standardized very well, that may be where the point of contention lies. I'm defining failure as inability to successfully perform a single rep with no more than roughly 30%-40% of 1RM. Think reverse pyramid scheme that gets to pretty low weights at high reps.

Jsbrook hit the nail on the head with optimal vs. "works."

It's also not a good idea to compare pro bodybuilders to other folks who aren't juiced to the gills...



no... they ARE impressive.


I just read on another site a program where you work every body part on 1 day three days a week and he stressed that you should absolutely lift to failure on every set -so whose right?


Try and see. Do both. Pick one for say six weeks and do the other for the next six weeks. You'll put the whole train to failure thing in your archive as something for people to do who are still skinny after two years of lifting.