Should I train to failure?
Before I answer the question, let me quickly explain exactly what failure is.
Muscular Failure: Repeating an exercise to the point where a repetition fails due to inadequate muscular strength.
That’s right! The meaning of “training to failure” is actually taking your set to a point where you cannot finish a repetition. But let’s be honest, if this is failure, then 99% of gym goers never actually train to muscular failure (if you go according to the definition).
So…the simple answer is, HELL NO!
Let’s talk about the more practical train-to-failure method. From this point forward, when I mention failure, I will be referring to training to a point where your form breaks down and bar speed slows down dramatically. If a rep takes more than 5 seconds to complete, you have successfully failed (pun intended).
This simply means that you should always stop your set at the point where you cannot perform another repetition with absolutely perfect form. If your form breaks down on a rep, you have gone too far. To most people, when lifting in the 3-5 rep range (heavy), this is simply translated to something like, stop with 2 reps left in the tank.
To explain briefly, if you are training heavy, you should always stop with a couple of reps left in the tank. If you are training with a moderate weight, training a little closer to failure is totally fine…as long as you are not training to a point where form breaks down.
Why should I stop so early?
I’ll try to explain this as easily as I can for the sake of not overcomplicating things. When we train in the gym, our main focus should be our performance; pushing our body, slowly, and increasing our total workload without completely taxing our CNS. If our CNS is fatigued, then our performance suffers and the rest of our efforts are in vein.
If, on the other hand, we avoid failure, then we remain potentiated and the level of performance increases. I’ll give you a very basic example of how this is so…
Let’s say you walk into the gym and you are aiming to push 225 lbs on the bench for 3 sets, here is what it might look like for someone who is training to failure.
Total Workload: If we calculate his total workload, it comes to 3600.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have a trainee who is aiming to push 225 lbs on the bench for 3 sets, but will not train to failure.
Total Workload: 3825-4050
Now I know what you’re thinking, this guy only pushed 1-2 more reps than the other guy. Although this is true, you are missing the point. Example #1 has completely fatigued and the rest of his entire workout will progressively get worse and worse. Example #2 is still potentiated and thus can remain training at a better level of performance for his entire workout.
Is it EVER ok to train to failure?
The simple answer is, yes…training to failure 1-2 times per week might not hurt you in the long run. Also, when training with a lighter load (less intensity), training to failure is not too taxing on the CNS. So for example, if your training routine includes a light-day where you train 12-15 reps, this might be a good time to train to failure.
Don’t Train to Failure…Train to Success!
In short, avoid training to a point where your form breaks down and causes your performance to suffer. Aim for slow, progressive, workload increases without burning yourself out. If you train to failure too often, you’ll find yourself stuck in the gym and unable to increase your workload, thus making progress impossible.
Have you been training less than 2 years?