T Nation

Training to failure

I am seeking information concerning the pros and cons of training to failure–at least training to failure constantly. A good friend of mine, who happens to be a physical therapist
shared with me that he believes that varying intensity between complete failure and 75-90% of failure for a given rep range–NOT OF A 1-REP MAX–is a key to avoiding overtraining. Does anyone have any information validating this claim?

I’m no expert, but training to 1 rep max failure can be harmful. It has almost been a year since I tore my right pec almost completely off the upper-arm insertion point–all because of training to failure. Don’t be stupid when you are doing it. Your symmetry is permanently destroyed when you do a major tear!

It sort of depends on whether your main goal is to avoid overtraining or if it is to have maximum progress. I have had great success in terms of strength gains by doing sub-maximal sets with heavy weights (performing 4 or 5 reps when perhaps 6 or 7 would have been failure). I think this would correspond to your friend’s 75-90% range. However, I haven’t really had good size gains from submaximal training, and have always relied on either training to failure and/or having a high training density (ie. many sets/time). Perhaps a combination of submax training and short rest intervals would create size gains, but there would still be a risk of overtraining. So if you’ll allow me to sit on the fence, I’d say that as a component of a “periodized” type of training plan, submax training definitely has its place, especially after periods of intense training to failure. Plus, I think that basic submax training is beneficial to strength/power training, and can be used for size training if used with a high training density (eg. GVT). Sorry for the long post…just thought I’d add .02

Jeff; My partner and I have had very good luck trianing to failure. Although we shoot for the 2 to 5 rep range to failure. You need to pay close attention and determine if you are failing mentaly or phyically. Training to failure is very taxing to the body both phyically and mentaly. If you are not making strenght gains or increasing the number of reps every time you go into the gym, then you are overtraining. Train to failure during the off season when you can eat for maxium recovery. Pick one movement like deadlift, warm-up 10mins on a treadmill. Do 3 to 4 sets with lite wieght in the 6 to 8 rep range, paying close attention to form, then load up maxium wieght, do ONE set to failure, if you are in the 6 to 8 rep range next time you are in the gym increase the wieght, if you are in the 2 to 4 rep range next time keep the wieght the same and try to get into the 8 to 10 rep range, this way you are always making positive gains. If you fail at an attempt do not take it personaly just take note and make the appropreate ajustments. One of the best work-out I ever had was with a missed deadlift attempt. I tried twice, then I had to back the wieght way-off because of the fatigue of the two failed attempts. I did one set of 10 reps to failure and I was DONE. Stick a fork in me done. I hurt for 4 days. Which brings me to my next point. After training to failure stay away from the gym for 5 to 7 days until you feel recovered, then come back in and do a different movement like sqauts. After you are on this cycle for while you will find that you may need to wait 9 to 11 days to come back into the gym or even take 2 weeks off. You will know, you can feel it. You see why you need to do this in the off season! I would also try not to stay on a program like this more then 4 months then go back into a more volume type training program coming into the summer months consentrating on getting lean and using your new strenght to your advantage, always paying attention to how well you are recovering. I know that it is not a one rep max, but it is away to train to failure and keep injuries low risk

i follow the west side program and train to failure every almost every max effort day. their theory is as long as you rotate the exercises, you’ll be fine. i agree. i don’t feel overtrained and i’ve been doing this type of workout for over 18 months now.

As with everything, training to failure or not will make its cycle as the latest and greatest and bestest. Here’s the only thing I question about “training to failure”. It’s really not too specific. What is failure? There is always the question about form, tempo, rest, etc. The best piece of advice anyone has ever given me is to log everything, and best it the next training session. Alt that with periods of lesser intensity and gains are sure to come. Another gem was “the key to getting stronger is to raise the level of what is easy”. I read that a bunch of times and it seems to be solid advice. I am about to embark on Staley’s EDT/Q2 for a few weeks. Most logical piece ever written about training for me I have read in a long LONG time. Bumpa also reports that maximal efforts for extended periods lower serum testosterone levels.