T Nation

Training to Failure?

So, when training hole body workouts, should you train to failure or not?

Chad Waterbury says do not go to failure, or at it most, only at last set for the muscle group.

And most of the other trainers (Chad Waterbury, Cristian Thibedeau, Lyle MCDonald and more) recommends going to failure on all sets. (Must say that I am no longer in doubt that we should try prioritate more periods with hole body workouts. I have never experienced more progression in my 13 years of lifting iron.)

As I understand you have to break down the muscle cells to create microtrauma, and the body adapt by growing stonger and bigger (if good enough nutrition ans restitusion) Thats one of the most important training princips for getting musclehypertrophy.

So I understand that on a restricted diet you COULD avoid going to failure, but then I think it is better to cut down training volume and go to positive failure. And in a hypertrophy phase, getting enough calories, sleep, and not to high volume you should go to postive failure and in periods beyond…

Anyway…so what you guys out there think about going to failure. Lets start a discussion :slight_smile:

I personally progress faster when I go to failure infrequently and only on final sets.

We all respond differently to different styles of training so trying both out for your self is the best way to decide which you like best in my opinion.

[quote]Heliotrope wrote:
I personally progress faster when I go to failure infrequently and only on final sets.

We all respond differently to different styles of training so trying both out for your self is the best way to decide which you like best in my opinion.

[/quote]

Thats funny I’m the same way.

The whole “failure” term is kind of funny. My stepbro’s walking db lunge record was 25 lb db’s for 30 steps. We got him all psyched up and yelled throughout his entire set, and he ended up getting 150 steps. He quintupled his record. It was one of the most unbelievable feats I’ve seen.

I’ve made awesome strength gains doing routines where I did one set til failure on about eight different exercises every few days. Probably the best strength gains I’ve ever made in such short periods of time. This could have been because my body was ready at those times for lower volume and higher intensity.

Before I fell off the training wagon back in the early nineties. I would’ve sworn under oath in federal court that if you weren’t going to absolute eccentric failure on every single working set of every single excercise there were gains lurking in your body that you were keeping from being realized. When I learned about super high intensity and infrequent training it revolutionized my progress. I started doing 2 ferocious heart stopping sets per body part every seven days and I sprouted like a dandelion for the next year.

Having said all that I stopped training before I got a chance to try anything else so I never found out if cycling a different method in would’ve worked even better or gotten me past a plateau which I never really had. This time I’m seeing the validity of other methods and am currently doing more sets of heavier weight to one rep before failure and am seeing good results with that. However when I started training again 6 months ago high intensity balls out training to failure was all I knew and it worked before so I did it again and sure enough it worked again, great gains.

Bottom line? In my current opinion, which is subject to further educated revision without notice, is that cycling different methods is probably most guys best long term bet.

–Tiribulus->

At this time as a newbie (getting back into the iron fold again that is) I do all my sets to failure.

I guess at this time it is working for me as I see my needs to up the weight tells me so.

This idea came from weight training back MANY moons ago as I was in High School, and that is how I trained then Old School,
2-3 sets and all sets to failure and a 1 min rest between sets.

I will vary it later and to be honest have even tried Dog Crapp style on a couple of areas.

It’s no secret that muscle growth is caused by the repair that takes place after the controlled self induced injury that is weight training. It’s also no secret that the heavier the weight you move the more the controlled damage, hence more needed repair and more growth… as a general rule. If you do double drop sets to absolute failure at each stage say, 6, 3 and 2, unless you are genetic miracle you can by definition, only do a small number of sets before someone has to come and scoop you into a little sack. This does pulverize your muscles though with a relatively smaller amount of work. If you abstain from failure, but do more sets with higher weights to begin with you wind up pushing more weight over a similar number of reps overall. I suspect they engage different types of fibers to varying degrees though. Both ways get me sore and make me grow.

–Tiribulus->

I have two points to make because it seems like nobody has addressed them yet:

  1. Waterbury specifically mentions that going to failure on every set sets you up for injury, since that last rep will cause you to shake, bounce, or twist in painful and unnatural ways. He also claims there are studies which show no advantage to going to failure as opposed to “leaving one in the hole.” You’ll have to search his articles, but I’m sure he mentioned something along those lines.

  2. Why would the last rep of your set make more of a difference than all the other reps? For example, if you are doing 5x5, and you go to failure on your last rep of your last set, is that one “failure” rep going to have more of an effect on hypertrophy than the previous 24 reps?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the OP seemed to be suggesting that all the hypertrophy-inducing muscle damage is going to come on that last rep while you are grunting and almost shitting yourself (and your form has deteriorated to the point where people are dialing 9-1 on their phones and waiting for you to pass out). The way I see it, its called “failure” for a reason: you failed to properly execute the motion. How can that be great for hypertrophy?

Now, I am by no means a failure Nazi. I go to failure once in a while, just to see if I can get that last rep out, but I don’t think you have to walk away from each set which didn’t go to failure thinking you just wasted your effort.

So, lets say when training naturally without drugs, training holde body workouts should not every time go to failure. Because you can be overtrained. Maybe do a periodisation like this:

Week1: Go to positive failure on all sets.
Week2: Go to positive failure on last set for each muscle group.
Week3: Do not go to failure. Stope 1-2 reps before positive failure.

Any other ideas?

My $.02:

If natural, no more than once every two weeks and even then you are risking an injury.

If jacked, never!

[quote]swordthrower wrote:
I have two points to make because it seems like nobody has addressed them yet:

  1. Waterbury specifically mentions that going to failure on every set sets you up for injury, since that last rep will cause you to shake, bounce, or twist in painful and unnatural ways. He also claims there are studies which show no advantage to going to failure as opposed to “leaving one in the hole.” You’ll have to search his articles, but I’m sure he mentioned something along those lines.
    [/quote]

If you’re sacrificing form, you’ve already passed failure in my book. A little intelligent cheating on some movements may be helpful on occasion, but I consider failure the last rep that can be safely performed, always have. I’ve personally never "shaken, twisted, or bounced in any unnatural way to complete a rep.

[quote]swordthrower wrote:
2) Why would the last rep of your set make more of a difference than all the other reps? For example, if you are doing 5x5, and you go to failure on your last rep of your last set, is that one “failure” rep going to have more of an effect on hypertrophy than the previous 24 reps?
[/quote]

There is some logic to this and I would be open to data supporting it. However maybe a case could be made that temporary ATP and oxygen depletion enhance “damage” in some way or some related principle. I do know, undeniably, that when I started doing 2 double (sometimes triple) drop sets where people were tempted to dial 9-11 because I was damn near shitting myself and passing out that I saw measurable gains every 7 days. This time’s a little different because I was coming off a very long layoff and probably just about anything would’ve worked for a while.

Failing the execute the motion properly is not what I’m talking about as stated above. Failure to complete a repetition with the same form as the previous reps is.

I concur. Like I say, I’ve seen the light in that I no longer have failure tattooed on my soul in the belief that other methods can’t be just as effective and maybe more so. Going to failure will have it’s place though unless I see undeniable evidence that nothing’s gained by it in which case I’ll bow to the evidence. Nothing would please me more than learning that there is no use in all that pain, but I have hard time getting over the success I’ve had with it.

–Tiribulus->

[quote]mikeynorth wrote:
So, lets say when training naturally without drugs, training whole body workouts should not every time go to failure. Because you can be over-trained. Maybe do a periodization like this:

Week1: Go to positive failure on all sets.
Week2: Go to positive failure on last set for each muscle group.
Week3: Do not go to failure. Stop 1-2 reps before positive failure.

Any other ideas?[/quote]

Ian King recommends a periodization similar to this but in reverse order~ie his week 1 is what you listed as week 3.

First there are different types of failure, when you fail after 5 reps verses when you fail after 15 reps (anerobic/CNS) failure verses aerobic/cardiovascular failure)?

Second (there is another thread about this) there are different perceptions of effort or failure points for different people. We have all seen someone who looked like they were done after 2 or 3 reps, roll their eyes up in their heads and reach down inside of themselves and do 1, 2 or 3 more reps, when a lot of people would have just given up and called it “failure” after the first 3 reps.

If you are one of those people who could put that extra effort in every set, then going to that level of failure every set may lead to overtraining, injury, plateaus, etc.

I like to mix it up some, and go to failure on one low rep set every other session or so. I also mix up reps and do pyramids some sesssions, 8x3, 6x4 or 5x5 another session and 12-15x2 another session. I find that NOT going to failure every session works best for me in the long term.

Another point to consider is that there is a huge difference between failure on say a set of ass to grass squats compared to say wrist curls.

Also as a lifter becomes more advanced and gets stronger and more effecient neurally the impact of a set to failure is going to be different than it use too be.

Mixing it up, adapting, and experimenting is not only refreshing and effective but also fun!