Training

The Ins and Outs of Training to Failure

Train to failure for show-stopping gains.

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 WHY FAIL 

When you train to failure on a regular basis, it’s bound to mess with your recovery, and the consequences can be severe. Each rep that hits failure — and each cheat set you take beyond failure — sets you back more and more in terms of how much recovery time you’ll need after that particular workout. With that said, why would anyone want to train to failure?

IFBB Pro League athlete Stan Efferding goes to failure sporadically throughout his training year, usually at the end of his high-volume hypertrophy workouts. “I’m trying to get more blood to my muscles at the end of an exercise and stretch out the fascia [the protective sheath that coats muscle fibers],” he says. “My goal when training this way is to push as much weight as I possibly can in an hour.”

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Training to failure builds mental toughness that can’t be achieved when you’re always training short of your limits. “Failure helps me discover what my limits are,” Efferding says. “With a program of progressive resistance, training to failure enables me to get to my limits, then push past them.”

IFBB pro Derik Farnsworth utilizes failure to fully fatigue his fast-twitch muscle fibers, the ones most conducive to promoting effective growth. “I do it for overload,” he says. “I think the last set of an exercise should really knock me out, so training to failure helps me go all out, be economical with my workouts and not waste any sets.”

“I train to failure, because it gives the muscle a harder, more dense and well-developed look,” says IFBB pro Chris Cormier. “It brings out deep fibers that may otherwise be dormant.”

 HOW TO FAIL 

Next time you’re in the gym, take a look around and see how many people train to failure on every single set. According to our experts, consistently working failure into your program this way is a recipe for disaster. Applying the principle correctly, however, can stimulate gains beyond anything you’ve ever thought possible. Here’s what they suggest: train to failure on a movement only once every three weeks and take time to mentally recover in between workouts during which you go to failure in multiple movements. “The psychological part of this is why you have to keep your volume low,” says Dave Tate, legendary powerlifter and owner and CEO of Elite Fitness Systems. “That’s why, with programs like Doggcrapp and high-intensity training, the volume is so low. It’s also why, with programs like FST-7 [fascia stretch training], which have much higher volume levels, most sets won’t go to failure.”

BEWARE OF FATIGUE 

“Too much of anything will give you problems,” says Cormier. “I give myself a period where I’m pressing the issue, and then I’ll back off for a period of time to recuperate.”

FIND THE RANGE 

Train to failure only on sets within the 8- to 20-rep range. “Going to failure with anything less than this is not the best way to train for muscle growth,” Efferding states.

FAIL AT THE END 

Choose one exercise per bodypart, and then train to failure for the last one or two sets for that bodypart.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS 

It’s OK to cheat on the last rep of a movement if you have to, but failure should be considered the point at which you can’t do another rep of an exercise with proper form.

 

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