Five Reasons Why Training to Failure Sets You Up For Muscle-Building Success

In the past few years, many strength coaches, trainers, and self-proclaimed “experts” have been telling lifters to avoid training to failure at all costs. What was once a common-sense weight training method for bodybuilders everywhere is now heralded as the fast track to poor results, fatigue, and injury. Proponents of this school of thought insist that pushing a set to the absolute limit leads to overtraining, exhaustion, and an inability to progress in strength. Those who use common sense and observe what the most successful bodybuilders are doing know that nothing could be further from the truth.

Of course this analysis is not meant to imply that training to failure is the only legitimate way to lift weights. There are certainly many competitive lifters, athletes, and even bodybuilders that find they can accomplish their goals best by stopping their sets a rep or two short of failure. However, the vast majority of lifters focused primarily on gaining significant muscle mass will achieve their best muscle-building results by focusing all of their training energy on a few all-out sets of a few exercises per session. Here are five reasons why training to failure will help you build muscle:

1. Maximum Strength Gains

Lifting a relatively heavy weight to positive failure (until you cannot complete another full rep) for one, sometimes two sets will generally produce the biggest stimulus for strength gain, and thus, the biggest muscle gain. The lifters with whom I have trained and I have all found that every time we stray from this philosophy and start doing a higher volume of less-taxing sets, we only end up stagnating or even getting weaker.

2. Adequate Muscle Stimulation

Muscles in the human body can only benefit from a certain amount of stimulation in one session. Once you have reached this point for a particular muscle or movement pattern, further stress is essentially wasted energy.

For example, think about two bodybuilders of equal strength training chest. One works up to an all-out set of 315 for 10 on the bench press. The last rep was a do-or-die effort, and his chest is still feeling it ten minutes later. The other works up to two or three sets of 315 for 7 or 8 reps and THEN proceeds to do dumbbell presses, machine presses, flyes, and cable crossovers in a similar fashion. The first bodybuilder did plenty to stimulate his pecs, and provided that he eats and rests properly, they will grow. The second bodybuilder, despite his lower-intensity sets, did far more work than was necessary and wasted a great deal of energy.

3. High Training Frequency

Since training one or two movements for one set to failure provides only the appropriate amount of stimulation for a given muscle, it will also lead to decreased recovery time. This means that the cycle of stimulation, recovery, and growth can be safely repeated more often in a given time frame than with the higher volume, lower intensity method.

This concept can again be related to the previous example of two bodybuilders. The bodybuilder who performed one all-out set on the bench press will certainly get sore and require time to recover, but he will most likely be fresh and ready to train chest again in just a couple of days. The other bodybuilder, however, will experience extreme soreness and fatigue in his chest for several days and will not be ready to train that muscle again for nearly a week.

4. Time Efficiency

Observing the previous training examples, it is obvious that performing a few exercises to failure will take far less time than performing many exercises with lower intensity. This is highly beneficial not only because of the extra time you will have, but because you do not gain muscle while you are in the gym training. It is when you leave the gym to eat and rest that your muscles begin to repair and grow larger.

5. Injury Prevention

It may seems counter intuitive that forcing your body to work harder at lifting heavy weights would lead to less injury, but this has been the case for many bodybuilders and other weight lifters. The reason for this phenomenon is that doing any movement repeatedly will lead to wear and tear on the joints over time. The bodybuilder who worked up to one all-out set on the bench press certainly pushed his body to the limit, but he only performed those 10 reps of one movement, plus warm up sets. The other bodybuilder, however, did hundreds of reps of pressing and fly movements and created enormous strain on his joints. Personally, my knees, elbows, and shoulders feel best when I am doing a low volume of very hard, heavy training.

In conclusion, those of you working to gain the most muscle mass possible in a given time frame would do well to perform a few all-out sets of a few exercises per session. Assuming you are eating and sleeping enough to gain weight, you will experience larger strength gains, faster muscular gains, and decreased fatigue and joint pain. Training to failure is the best method for muscle-building success.

David LaMartina is a competitive powerlifter who currently sits at a solid 250 pounds and has achieved a 590 squat, 315 bench, and 635 deadlift. If you found his muscle-building tips helpful, visit this site. If you would like to learn more about how to gain muscle through smart, intense training and quality nutrition, click here.

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