Training to Failure

Training ‘all-out’ may stunt your muscle growth

You get out what you put in, right? Not necessarily when it comes to weightlifting. Putting in maximum effort and completing every set until absolute failure could in fact slow your development.

But training to failure works?

If you are thinking very short term, you’d be right. Training until absolute failure (when your muscles can no longer generate the required force to perform an exercise) does promote muscular hypertrophy.

However, the knock-on impact can be very harmful to your progress. Finishing a set 2 repetitions before hitting muscle failure is shown in new research to increase the predicted bench press of a trainee the next day by +.57%. Whereas trainees who take their sets to failure are predicted to have a drop off of -7.2%.

This level of fatigue will carry over into your remaining weekly workouts. This means it is likely you won’t be able to work at the same intensity and reap those rewards for all that hard work.

Not only do those extra couple of reps lead to fatigue, but there is almost no difference in muscle gain when compared to completing a set with 2 repetitions in reserve.

Train hard, yes. But don’t forget to train smart too.

Why don’t I try more sets?

Currently, no evidence shows that increased sets per week reduces muscle growth. However, a 2016 study does suggest that it plateaus at a certain point, making all those extra sets almost redundant. When comparing lower set ranges, muscle thickness significantly increased in the group with the higher number of sets per muscle group per week: 10 being significantly greater gains than 5-9 sets per week, and 5-9 being significantly greater than <5 sets per week.

But, further research shows this jump in growth diminishes when comparing 10 weekly sets per muscle group, against 20 sets. Here, there is only a small increase in muscle growth for the higher set group. And for athletes training above 20 weekly sets per muscle group, there was almost no difference in muscle size. This indicates training above 20 sets will have minimal-to-no impact on your gym progress, only increasing fatigue and likelihood of injury.

The solution to optimising muscle development?

A carefully structured workout cycle. Smart exercise selection. Optimal rep ranges. Sufficient deloading. Correct technique. And various other factors.

If you need help executing a personalised training programme, get in touch with one of our coaches.

Andy Pilides

Andy has over 10 years of experience in the field of training, nutrition, and exercise science. He has a lifetime of practice, using various methods of weight-room & field-based training principles, on himself and in abundance on a vast amount of people of all different body types. Andy holds a Masters degree in Strength & Conditioning.